Simon is not an ordinary young man. His seemingly innocuous job, as a high-school biology teacher, is an odd a cover for his strange existence as a serial killer. And yet, that is not exactly what he is. The women he murders are intent on suicide; he just gives them the option of dying quickly and painlessly – by exsanguinating them, and then drinking their blood. While this might sound like the outline of a horror film, director Iwai Shunji’s remarkable film Vampire is in truth a quiet, dark, and intense drama, a strange take on the vampire myth, and an oddly compelling love story.
Simon finds women on the internet, kills them, collects their blood, disposes of their bodies and destroys evidence of their communication. He seems to believe himself to be a vampire, and yet his attempts at the stereotypical vampiric lifestyle are a failure. He shuns those who disrespectfully harm women (a quality he does not recognize in himself.) He looks after his mother, whose Alzheimer’s he keeps under control in a most unusual way, and tries to fend off the psychotic advances of the obsessive Laura. He seems to only make connections with women when they are brief, when the women are about to give him what he craves most: their blood.
As Simon, Kevin Zegers finds the perfect balance between criminal insanity and quiet desperation. It is hard not to feel sympathy for him, as those who seek to invade his carefully constructed and very private world inundate him on all sides. It is the pain of the introvert, who is constantly made to feel a failure by those who would try to make themselves his unnecessary saviour. The camera barely leaves Simon alone, emphasizing not only Simon’s almost constant discomfort with the world, but also increasing the (necessary) discomfort of the audience. Zegers’ Simon only seems calm when he is telling his victims of the peace they will finally achieve when he helps them toward death, a peace he himself can never achieve.
The various women who pass through his hands (who include Keisha Castle-Hughes and Kristen Kreuk), so to speak, put the strangest trust in him, and in their brief moments on screen, they elicit such sympathy from the audience that one could catch oneself screaming at them to run and save themselves – not because Simon is dangerous per se, but because they need to find a reason, a reason to live. For at the heart of this film is an examination of suicide, or to perhaps give it a more vampiric perspective, voluntary death. Is it truly possible to save someone who is determined to kill himself or herself? Can giving them a peaceful death be of a greater comfort than trying to save them from apparently unending emotional pain? And is Simon’s apparently vampiric pain and inability to escape his desire a justification? Well, no, but the final scene of the film, at first seemingly out of place, seeks to explain Simon’s strange version of compassion. Like his victims, Simon is alone, and it is only on this strange brink of death that he can find any semblance of love.