Shudder ’s So Vam is an LGBTQ+ horror that can’t escape its meagre budget but manages to come out on the other side as an empowering film made with love.
Making films is hard. Whether you’re making a blockbuster or an independent drama, it’s a craft that takes years of precision and hard work to truly perfect. However, when the work is done and you’re able to see your final creation, it can be a euphoric feeling. No matter how strong their later work may become, even iconic directors such as Steven Spielberg had to start somewhere in order to find their cinematic voice, even if it meant creating amateur work to get there. Shudder’s So Vam is a film that is, unfortunately, let down by its cheap production values and overuse of ADR but it manages to come out the other side as a film that’s made with love and compassion from a young seventeen-year-old director who may have an extremely bright future for themselves in the horizon.
So Vam follows Kurt (Xai) a teenage outcast who lives in a conservative town in Australia. Despite going through homophobic abuse daily, Kurt is resilient and has big dreams of moving away to the city so he can fulfil his dreams to become a famous drag queen. One day. Kurt is kidnapped by a predatory old vampire and is viciously killed. However, he is rescued just in time by a gang of young rebellious vampires who feed on bigots and abusers who welcome him into their hive.
So Vam is directed by Alice Maio Mackay, who is a seventeen-year-old trans filmmaker, and from the outset, the film doesn’t hide the sense of identity it comes anchored with. Despite a trigger warning disclaimer that seemingly depicts a film with some extremely harrowing content, So Vam is at its core an extremely empowering story of a young teenager whose resilience and power help them not just through their own supernatural changes as they become a vampire but the queerphobic abuse they have to face within each passing moment. Kurt is someone who’s immediately seen as a target by bigots because of how they dress, how they speak or even who they associate themselves with. Despite this, they continue to see another day as who they want to be is a dream they continue to seek to achieve no matter what. So Vam may tackle these themes with on-the-nose writing and its short runtime certainly doesn’t let it go deeper than it could but it works just enough to be a thoroughly engaging work all the way through.
There’s a lot of passion within So Vam that makes it a charming watch. However, where the film’s central shortcomings lie is within its filmmaking craft. The meager budget here is to its detriment as many scenes here overuse ADR and the script feels unnatural for the actors who have to work through some extremely awkward sequences both in dialogue and movement. Whether the scene is set at a nightclub or a quiet bench in the park, the sound design of the film is largely inconsistent and unfortunately brings it down a few pegs when watching it unfold. One particular fight sequence in a playground especially lacks the resources necessary for it to truly be well executed and it leads to the film feeling even cheaper than it already is. However, the fact that the film comes from a seventeen-year-old filmmaker is no doubt impressive and there’s tons of potential as Alice Maio Mackay creates some beautiful uses of colour throughout.
Despite its weak production values, there’s a lot to like and admire in So Vam. At just 73 minutes, the film covers a lot in its runtime and is always engaging as it balances telling a vampire story splashed with bright neon colours and a sense of compassionate comradery from the director who wants to push past the harsh noise of the modern toxic landscape against people like them in order to tell a story of discovering your identity and loving who you are underneath no matter what. It may not be a game changer cinematically but as a debut of a young trans filmmaker, it shows promise and potential for something truly fantastic somewhere down the road.
So Vam will premiere on Shudder on August 25, 2022.