Some cult flicks take decades to germinate in the hearts and minds of schlock enthusiasts, while others announce themselves right away. Director Brian James O’Connell’s Bloodsucking Bastards could easily fall under the latter category, provided it finds the right audience to embrace it. That shouldn’t be too difficult: It stars Fran Kranz, a Joss Whedon alum best known for either his supporting stint on the defunct Dollhouse, his turn as Claudio in Whedon’s backyard party version of Much Ado About Nothing, or his role as the nominal hero of The Cabin in the Woods, which Whedon co-wrote with helmsman Drew Goddard. Any production that siphons off the Whedonverse is guaranteed to have a niche following.
Ignoring casting, though, Bloodsucking Bastards almost feels designed to appeal to the Whedonite crowd. Its sense of humor blends self-awareness and self-deprecation in equal measure, it’s in love with monsters and mythology, and it folds a handful of genres into one messy, stilted blueprint. A workplace-vampire-romantic-horror-comedy? Sure—though in 2015, all vampire satires come in second behind Jemaine Clement’s and Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, a genius-level send-up of hemo-gobbler tropes and clichés that meldss parody with a surprising, and surprisingly affecting, surplus of heart. With Bloodsucking Bastards, O’Connell takes a somewhat more focused route: Drop the emotion and the sweetness, aim squarely for quips and copious amounts of carnage.
His narrower scope pays off, but it takes a lot of sloppy legwork to get to the good stuff. Bloodsucking Bastards takes place in a contemporary village of the damned, a stuffy, windowless call center where Evan (Kranz) labors mightily day in and day out for the promise of a promotion while his coworkers goof off. To make matters awkward, he’s at odds with Amanda (Emma Fitzpatrick), his slighted ex-girlfriend, who also happens to be the office HR jockey. And just when he thinks he’s getting boosted to managerial levels, in swoops old college archrival Max (Pedro Pascal) to steal the job right out of the palm of Evan’s hand. Max gets buddy-buddy with Evans’ peers right away; he’s unspeakably douchey in that jockish, suave, gregarious way that draws people to him in spite of themselves. He’s also a goddamn vampire.
Once Max shows up and starts having inappropriately toothy relations with his employees, Bloodsucking Bastards lets loose and starts showing personality. Up to that point, it’s bland drudgery. That’s sort of the point, of course, but unlike with an Office Space or even a The Office, O’Connell depicts workaday rigmarole purely as depressing. Even the script’s one-liners don’t provide us a bulwark from the numbing reality of the job. Kranz’s presence is especially important to the film in its earliest stretches by virtue of the nice guy ineffectuality he instills in Evan. Evan’s pals, chiefly his best friend Tim (Joey Kern) and unctuous cubicle vassal Andrew (Justin Ware), are such insufferable assholes that we can’t help but side with him. He might be an effete cog in a soulless machine, but at least he gives a crap.
It’s the charismatic Pascal’s appearance that brings the film to life. He throws himself into Max in a way that both respects the role and acknowledges Bloodsucking Bastards’ inherent camp value. Max is a real guy—if you work in the private sector, you probably know that guy. And hey, he’s really not that bad a guy, except when he starts turning people and Evans’ workplace goes from apathetic to downright hostile. Which means Bloodsucking Bastards’ side B drastically outdoes its side A. The jokes work better, even the ones recycled from earlier in the film. (There’s a great running gag involving spotty narrative flashbacks that falls flat in the first half hour but works like gangbusters in the second.)
Characters we initially find intolerable become the source of screwy punchlines, and when they don’t, it’s fine: They all end up exploding like gore-filled balloons anyway. (Plus, Marshall Givens’ militant security guard gets to defy the “black dude dies first” horror movie trope and be a hilarious badass. You’ll immediately wish the movie was about him.) It’s hammy, cheesy amusement that’s perfect as a midway entry in any Halloween movie marathon. O’Connell aims for the likes of Raimi, Wright and Jackson, though he’s nowhere near as inventive with his viscera and his craft is in the Peewee league by comparison. The film’s shagginess gets in the way of real greatness, and it nudges a bit too much. (Corporate America will suck you dry!) But if its commentary is blatant, its farce is suitably wacky, and it comes seasoned with just enough bite to raise Bloodsucking Bastards above most uninspired modern vamp-fests.
Director: Brian James O’Connell
Writers: Dr. God, Ryan Mitts
Starring: Fran Kranz, Emma Fitzpatrick, Joey Kern, Pedro Pascal, Joel Murray, Justin Ware, Marshall Givens, Yvette Yates
Release Date: September 4, 2015
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has been scribbling for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine and Badass Digest. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% Vermont craft brews.