Review: 'Therapy for a Vampire' [Fantasia Festival 2015]

It’s a bit of a relief to see a film that regards vampires not as pseudo-dangerous mating prospects, but as actually dangerous, though mostly ridiculous, monsters. That’s what you get with Therapy for a Vampire, which offers a silly, yet clever take on life as and around the most glamorous branch of the undead family, with all the vampire-themed sight gags and idiosyncrasies that implies.

Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan) and Viktor (Dominic Oley are) a young couple in 1930s Vienna, in a bit of a rough patch thanks to Viktor’s insistence on painting Lucy not as she looks, but as he wishes she looked. This, while he’s not working as Sigmund Freud’s (Karl Fisher) assistant.

Enter the vampires Count Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) and Countess Elsa von Közsnöm (Jeanette Hain). He hates his wife for a litany of reasons, not the least of being her vanity. She simply wants to be able to appreciate her own beauty as much as she gets her husband to say he does.

When the Count seeks out Freud’s help in dealing with his frustration, he chances upon a painting of Lucy, and is reminded of his true love of several centuries ago. He makes it his mission to win Lucy for himself, while distracting his jealous wife with promises that Viktor’s talent with a brush makes him the only one who can capture her essence to canvas.

Throughout, the jokes are fairly constant. For the most part, these are clever lines and gags that delve just a tad deeper into vampire mythology than we’ve seen in recent years, which makes both for a welcome change of pace and for many new opportunities for vampire-related humour. Throwing in the odd Freud joke doesn't hurt, either. There are several laugh out loud moments, but for the most part the approach is understated, and rarely does the film return to the same well again. It’s clear that a good deal of care went into the crafting of the script.

Apart from the vampire-centric humour, there’s little in this film that wouldn’t work in a more typical setting, which is to the film’s credit. Many very real insecurities are touched on in this film, along with plenty of moments of jealousy-induced spite that would be equally at home in a film with more dramatic heft. And the unfolding of the plot is quite well done, neatly tying everything together well before any one pairing of characters gets too comfortable, or too far ahead.

Vienna and the surrounding countryside is brought to life with great style. There’s a distinct retro feel, not just thanks to the costuming and set design, but also the shot composition and lighting. Writer/Director David Rühm has a clear vision for this setting, and it comes to life right from the outset.

Though the acting is solid across the board, special mention should be made of the performances turned in by Moretti and Hain. Moretti, for his ability to hit the exact right notes both as browbeaten husband and master seducer (and for carrying much of the comedic weight), and Hain for being just scary enough to add a genuinely threatening air to all the proceedings, no matter how ridiculous they may be at the time.

If there’s a negative to this film, it’s that it does so many things so well, but is not quite exceptional at any of them. It’s funny, but not hilarious. It’s thoughtful, but really only until it’s time for the next joke. In the end, it makes for perfectly watchable and enjoyable cinema, but the film does not seem likely to be one that will be remembered even a short way down the line. Worth a watch for the laughs alone, but probably not a “must-see” for too many.