Thirst Upends Conventional Vampire Logic

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Thirst 2019

“…Thorolf, an early settler of the island, reappeared after his burial. Cattle that went near his tomb became mad and died. His haunting at home caused his wife’s death. His wanderings were stopped for a while by the removal of his body to a new location. But he returned and, finally, his new tomb was opened and his body burned and ashes scattered.” --From the Icelandic Eyrbyggia Saga,

Ever since Max Schreck’s sinister, rat-like Graf Orlock rose from his coffin in Freidrich Murnau’s unauthorized silent-era Dracula adaptation Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Garuens nearly a century ago, the vampire--that alluring undead bloodsucker of Victorian-era Gothic fiction and plague-bearing scourge of superstitious Eastern European peasantry--has been a staple of cinema, horror and otherwise. From Bela Lugosi’s hypnotic stare through Hammer’s displays of glorious Grand Guignol into the ‘80’s and ‘90’s revitalizations of the archetype presented in Fright Night, The Lost Boys, Near Dark, The Addiction, From Dusk ‘Til Dawn and beyond, there’s an appeal to these creatures that defies common cyclical trends. The popularity of other silver screen beasts--werewolves, zombies, Satanic fiends, summer camp slashers--waxes and wanes, but the vampire, appropriately, holds an eternal allure.

Since the 2000’s a progressive variant of fang film has attempted to reinterpret traditional vampiric themes with heavy doses of unconventionality, and it’s in this vein that Uncork’d Entertainment and Level K unleash Thirst, an Icelandic interpretation of the undead that mixes a grim gallows humor in with its bone-chilling atmosphere.

Following an overdose that claims the life of her brother, junkie Hulda (Hulda

Lind Kristinsdóttir) is grilled by Reykjavik police detective Jens (Jens Jensson), who’s convinced she was involved in her sibling’s demise. Even Hulda’s own mother mistrusts her and with nowhere to go, she wanders the perpetually benighted streets until the evening when she intervenes in a back alley beat down of seemingly helpless old man Hjörtur (Hjörtur Sævar Steinason), who quickly reveals himself as a vampire. The two become unlikely, uneasy friends, and are soon pulled into peril, due not only to Hjörtur’s bloodthirsty ways, but the machinations of Jens’ televangelist-cum-cult-leader wife Ester (Ester Sveinbjarnardóttir), and devotee daughter Birgitta (Birgitta Sigursteinsdóttir), who see the unfolding events as proof that an end times prophecy--The Age of Unrest--is primed for fulfillment.

Thirst is awash with eccentricity, a pulsing,‘80’s-inspired minimalist-synth throb soundtrack and over-the-top gore (internal anatomy often becomes rapidly external, and blood not only flows, but gushes, spouts and sprays), but despite its flourishing of black comedy directors Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson and Gaukur Úlfarsson never allow quirkiness to dilute the tone into simplistic satire. Like its equally stylish Scandinavian cinematic brethren Let The Right One In, serious themes of loss, loneliness, and alienation abound, and writer Björn Leó Brynjarsson likewise makes the ambiguous homoerotic undercurrent present in many mainstream vampire movies stridently explicit through Hjörtur; not even Right One’s Eli or Interview With The Vampire’s Lestat de Lioncourt would’ve dared take such obvious delight in orally emasculating their enemies with as much blatant panache as Hjörtur does. Steinason’s undead figure is a literal shadow moving on the periphery of society, translucently pale, wide-eyed, soft spoken and living an isolated existence in his car, drawn to Hulda’s empathy and willingness to help him when no other human ever has. Similarly, Kristinsdóttir shows rare strength as Hulda; in lesser hands she would be a crude, one-dimensional character defined by drug addiction and nothing more, but through all of Thirst’s outrageousness she exhibits both a street-hardened toughness and surprising vulnerability. 

“You have a knack for getting into trouble,” someone tells Hulda early in the movie, but it's trouble worth watching, as Thirst offers an entertaining postmodern askew view that upends conventional vampire logic while still staying true to the impaled heart of the genre. 

I give Thirst a quenching 4.5 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale.

Grade: 
4.5 / 5.0