Venice 2023 review: Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person (Ariane Louis-Seize)

“An assured feel-good debut that brims with witty dialogue and an original look at the genre.”

Vampires are quite picky eaters: they can only survive on human blood. All other food is life-threatening to these nocturnal half-deads. But what if you are a vampire but can’t stand the idea of killing someone? Such is the predicament of Sasha, the teenage protagonist (well, she is technically 68 years old) of Canadian director Ariane Louis-Seize’s cool and breezy dark comedy Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person. A deliciously morbid tale that skirts past its darker issues but manages to be a joyful romantic comedy about every soul, whether dead or alive, having a match, this long-titled film oozes a sophisticated cool that could make it a crowd-pleaser in certain cinephile circles.

A young Sasha gets a birthday surprise from her family when a clown comes to liven up her party. The girl is delighted but the rest of the family, a bit of a pale lot, is positively bored by the show. “I can’t take this anymore. When do we eat him?” one them laments. That’s the moment it dawns on you that this is not a regular family, and the party is meant to be more of an initiation. Little Sasha is supposed to make her first kill, because you can’t be living off baggies of blood forever, can you? The sweet girl is having none of it though, and her doting father manages to save her from trauma. No such luck for Rico the clown though; he’s dead.

Cut to a decade or so later, and a teenage Sasha (Sara Montpetit) still lives off the blood her parents collect for her. She has a terrible affliction: compassion. It is impossible for her to kill a human being; her fangs don’t even grow at the sight of blood! Her parents send her to live with her bloodthirsty sister (Noémie O’Farrell) in hopes that Sasha’s older sibling can help her overcome her aversion to killing for food at some point. Then suddenly a possible solution presents itself when she meets Paul (Félix-Antoine Bénard, who bears a striking resemblance to a young Anthony Michael Hall), who is about to throw himself from the roof of a bowling alley. The boy is constantly being bullied and wants to end his life. What if he offers himself to Sasha as her first victim?

As the long title already suggests, at its core this is a lighthearted comedy, if morbid comedies can be called lighthearted. Yet Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person does dig a little deeper than most rom-coms, in particular when it comes to the topic of teen suicide. It doesn’t delve too deep into the subject, but the fact that both Paul and Sasha have suicidal thoughts is quite daring for a comedy of this type, and it is precisely this issue that the film doesn’t make light of. Its message that even loners can find a match in life is a positive, albeit not a very enlightening one, and it’s a more serious layer underneath the off-kilter humour that drives the film.

The nocturnal nature of her characters mostly drives Louis-Seize to interiors, rendered in warm, earthy colours and with a bit of a middle-of-the-century look, which makes sense for people who are older than they seem. With an eclectic soundtrack, including a wonderful scene between the two teenagers set to Brenda Lee’s Emotions, and Shawn Pavlin’s moody cinematography, the film has a certain too-cool-for-school air that feels like slipping into a warm bath. An assured feel-good debut that brims with witty dialogue and is an original look at the genre, Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person is a quirky and accessible film that seems ripe for a pick-up in Francophone territories at minimum, but has the appeal to travel further.