Eric’s Portland Horror Film Festival Review: Red Snow (2021)

ATMOSfx! Woo!
Olivia (Dennise Cisneros) on the run from vampires in Red Snow (2021)

★★★★ out of ★★★★★

A struggling horror novel author catches a fortuitous break, when a dashing young vampire crashes into her life. Red Snow is a cheeky and wicked little horror-romcom with great character chemistry that doesn’t always go where you would expect.

Directed by Sean Nichols Lynch

Olivia (Dennice Cisneros) is an eccentric young woman who has retreated to a Lake Tahoe cabin she has inherited from her deceased mother. Her home is filled with rejection letters from publishers who have passed at all her attempts at vampire fiction. She is part Goth, part homebody, and despite the Holiday season, her house is decorated and ready for Halloween, even the Christmas tree. Unlike most Goths, she is an unfettered optimist and takes all the literary criticism in stride, cheerfully convinced that she will one day catch a lucky break.

That break eventually comes in the form of a bat, which on one fateful day slams into the side of her cabin. The decidedly rubbery-looking bat is wounded, but not dead, and Olivia’s nurturing (and interest in the macabre) instincts kick in. She puts the bat in a shoebox in her garage and goes to the butcher to get some pigs’ blood to nurse the bat back to health.

In the morning, a loud thump signals what we all know is a transformation. The bat has transmogrified back into a vampire, and he’s a handsome lad. This, of course, is exactly what Olivia was hoping for. A real “live” vampire! Luke (Nico Bellamy) is still weak and complains that the pigs’ blood is like drinking hot piss, but it’ll do. Luke, in a running gag, has to wear hand-me-down dowdy clothes from Olivia’s mom, and still badly wounded, is in no shape to either protest or escape. Olivia cannot believe her luck.

The arrival of Luke attracts the attention of a vampire hunter, the man who put the wounding holy water-coated crossbow bolt into Luke. The hunter, Julius (Vernon Wells) has managed to track Luke back to Olivia’s house, and the game of cat and mouse is afoot. Olivia is in no mood to cooperate with Julius and having enlisted Luke’s help with improving her latest mediocre manuscript, dodges and deflects all of Julius’s queries.

Red Snow is a movie that suggests a fairly conventional story, but it takes some clever and devious turns at unexpected moments. The film has a bunch of fun picking and choosing what vampire tropes it wants to adhere to and which ones it wants to break. And, within the sub-trope of Goth Fandom, I was surprised about a lot of Olivia’s motivations. (She is not covetous of vampiric powers, apparently.)

Feature newcomer Cisneros manages to thread the needle with her portrayal of Olivia. If she plays it too sweet the character becomes cloying and unbearable. Too dark and the humor and wonder are lost. Her expressive wide-eyed reactions convey just enough restrained glee, barely holding back her vampire fan-girl instincts. The role of Olivia was written specifically for Cisneros, and it shows. She is fully invested in this character and fills her with all sorts of interesting quirks.

Nico Bellamy, as the vampire, actually gets to play the straight man in this context, which I found interesting as vampires almost always get to play the over-the-top personalities. His approach to Luke is laid-back and cool, willing to play along with Olivia. He is in a diminished position, but he’s playing the long game, trying to manipulate her with an easy charm and non-threatening demeanor. Like Cisneros, this was Bellamy’s feature film debut. Full credit due to both actors for their excellent screen chemistry.

The tension comes from determining who is really in control of the situation. There is an awkward sexual tension, with the dowdy and awkward Olivia ogling Luke, but trying to maintain her leverage, and Luke sensing this desire but not strong enough to forcibly take advantage of the relationship. Is she gullible? Is he just a nice vampire? Who is fooling who? I was picking up some What We Do in the Shadows vibes, in the way that the vampire master – minion relationship works, except that here, that bond hasn’t yet been cemented, and could turn out badly for either (or both) of them.

Eventually, it takes the introduction of a third element in the form of Luke’s vampire lover, Jackie (Larua Kennon), to stir the pot up and to reveal the hands. And, as mentioned before, I appreciated the approach that writer/director Lynch took to the conclusion. He did not write the easy way out and spun a wryly ironic end to the tale. The baby-faced director shows a lot of promise with this production.

A bonus fun fact: it was cool to see Vernon Wells in the movie. He’s a veteran of dozens of B-Movies, but if you squint and imagine him much younger, and with a mohawk, you’ll realize that he was Wez, the maniacal biker brute from George Miller’s masterpiece, The Road Warrior (1981).

Red Snow does not yet have an MPAA rating, but it would likely end up with an R rating, for violence, some torture, and mild gore. It wouldn’t be a heavy R rating, as the bloodshed isn’t particularly extreme. This horror-comedy was featured at the Portland Horror Film Festival, and it is still in its festival run and does not have a wide theatrical or streaming release date posted yet. Do not confuse this film with the action-war film of the same name!

Review by Eric Li
Categories: Festivals, ReviewsTags: , , , , , , , , ,