Sara Montpetit shines in Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, a stunning film that’s full of personality but suffers from an unfocused plot.
The film with the best title at this year’s Venice Film Festival wastes no time introducing us to its titular “humanist vampire.” When we first meet Sasha (Sara Montpetit), she’s a young girl celebrating her birthday with her family, and she’s having a great time. Not only has she just been given a piano and realised that she can play it like a pro (“It must be in her blood,” someone observes), but her mum (Sophie Cadieux), dad (Steve Laplante), aunt (Marie Brassard), and cousin Denise (Noémie O’Farrell) have also hired a clown for the evening. But while Sasha is super excited to watch him entertain her, her relatives have other plans. And it’s when it comes to, ahem, having dinner that Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person‘s (Vampire Humaniste Cherche Suicidaire Consentant) central theme becomes clear.
While the rest of her family can’t wait to devour the poor clown, Sasha refuses to feed. And so, a few doctor’s appointments later, we learn that, while the sight of humans dying should trigger hunger in “normal” vampires, Sasha experiences compassion instead. Not only that, but our young vampire is so empathetic that the mere sight of her family feeding on the clown left her with PTSD and obsessive thoughts. Sasha’s mum believes that they should try to make her independent as soon as possible, but her dad thinks they shouldn’t force her until she’s ready. And so, the years go by, but as Sasha grows, nothing really changes.
“We’re not helping her by letting her empty the fridge,” Sasha’s mother tells her husband, many years later, as their daughter drinks from a blood bag on the sofa. And so, the moment Sasha’s fangs come out for the first time, the two adults make a drastic decision. Since “cadavers don’t grow on trees,” Sasha is going to live with Denise, with her supply of blood completely cut off until she gets over her fears and learns to feed.
Life is not easy without “food,” and Sasha’s stomach begins to grumble as she desperately tries to find ways to feed while not taking lives. But just when all seems lost, she meets Paul (Félix-Antoine Bénard), our titular “consenting suicidal person,” who is more than willing to give up his own life, which he doesn’t enjoy in the slightest, to save hers. And so begins a journey for both protagonists, as the two go on a nocturnal adventure to let Paul fulfil his last wishes, hoping that this will calm Sasha’s anxieties and get her fangs to show up again.
Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person looks and sounds great. From the very start, the movie focuses on Sasha alone, and its visual (Shawn Pavlin) and sonic (Ryan Strauss and Rachel Tremblay Saint-Yves) landscapes change as she evolves. If it begins with a somewhat cheerful gothic atmosphere reminiscent of The Addams Family, it soon turns into a noir film as a jazzy score accompanies us to a stylish world of neon signs that comes alive at night. But then, Sasha meets Paul and begins to have hope, and the film’s mood evolves yet again, this time with upbeat disco music and faster transitions. But as all of this happens, Humanist Vampire never loses its charming personality, where pastry swirls hypnotise you as they lie on top of record players and a meetcute between a suicidal person and an empathetic killer can make you feel emotional.
Which leads me to Vampire Humaniste‘s genius premise: even though Sasha is a vampire and there’s nothing ordinary about her life, French-Canadian director Ariane Louis-Seize and co-writer Christine Doyon treat their protagonist just like any other teenager. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about blood and killing people: deep down, Sasha is just another young girl who’s trying to stay true to herself and get her parents to accept her for who she is. As we follow her on her journey, blood becomes a metaphor for identity and womanhood, and the real issue comes from the contradictions that define her. On one hand, Sasha’s a vampire, and killing humans to sustain herself is in her nature; on the other hand, she has strong moral principles that are equally important in making her who she is.
When Sasha meets Paul, a world of possibility opens up: maybe the two traits that define her don’t have to clash, as Paul actually wants to die. But things aren’t so easy, as our humanist vampire is aware of the value that life holds, even when Paul is not. This gives Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person the potential to be a philosophically intriguing movie, even more so as the director describes it as a film that was “born out of the need to tame [her] own anxieties about death.”
Unfortunately, that message doesn’t really come across in Humanist Vampire, a film that builds its entire premise on immortality and suicide and yet doesn’t really explore any of those themes with enough depth. On paper, the movie sets out to tell an absurd story with a matter-of-fact, humorous tone that would enable us to think about matters of life and death, non-conformity, and, ultimately, love. But it’s in its execution that it becomes a bit muddled and ultimately loses its focus.
Humour-wise, though we get various funny one liners throughout the movie, the film is not absurd enough for its satirical aspects to really come through and not grounded enough for us to take it seriously. Take Sasha’s age: at some point in the movie, we learn that she’s 60+ years old, which can’t help but make us painfully aware of how young her love interest truly is; though vampires age slower, the love story aspect of the film still feels a little creepy, if not even problematic. Not only that, but it’s also severely underdeveloped, especially when it comes to Paul’s backstory: all we really know about him is that he’s being bullied at school and work and that his mum is not very present in his life, so we have to assume that this is what made him suicidal.
For this reason, what he says about not valuing his own life doesn’t leave as much of an impression on us, leading to an exploration of suicide that is surface-level at best. I won’t spoil the film for you, but the ending did make me wonder about the director’s stance on suicide as a whole, and what teens who are struggling with the same kinds of thoughts as Paul will make of it.
Sasha’s relationship with her own family is similarly underexplored. We don’t really know much about any of her relatives, but her dad would seem to be the most supportive person in her life: it’s a shame that we don’t really get to see their bond develop in the film. More screen time is given to Sasha and Denise after the former moves in with the latter, but since we don’t know much about Denise — with all this confusion about vampire age, I actually struggled to understand if she was her aunt or her cousin — we are not particularly invested in it, which makes their scenes together significantly less interesting than the rest of the film.
There are also hints of commentary on gender roles, such as a great scene where, after discovering their daughter won’t be able to sustain herself for a while, Sasha’s mum tells her husband that she “won’t be hunting for the entire family for the next 200 years,” and the latter points out that he “went on Monday!”. But these clever dialogues are scattered throughout the film and never really tackled with much depth. The movie does eventually approach themes of identity, growing up, and life and death, but it doesn’t always provide us with answers to the relevant questions it asks.
In the end, Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person is a very endearing, charming film that you’ll definitely enjoy because of its stunning, immersive cinematography and a fantastic performance from Sara Montpetit. It’s also a debut from a writer-director to keep an eye on, as it’s clear that Ariane Louis-Seize has the potential to make something truly exceptional in the future. And even though Vampire Humaniste clearly isn’t that film, it’s still compelling enough to make for a light, enjoyable watch.
Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person (Vampire Humaniste Cherche Suicidaire Consentant) premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival’s Venice Days in September 2023.