FrightFest 2021 film review: Red Snow
Christmas vampires and candy elves7
The creative process, defanged7
Anton Bitel | On 27, Aug 2021
Director: Sean Nichols Lynch
Cast: Dennice Cisneros, Nico Bellamy, Laura Kennon, Alan Silva, Vernon Wells
Where to watch Red Snow online in the UK: FrightFest 2021
This film is playing in person at FrightFest 2021 in August – and will stream online as part of the festival’s digital event in September. For more details on the online line-up and how to watch, click here.
“I write about vampires, and I read about them, a lot, and I’ve seen a lot of vampire movies,” declares Olivia Romo (Dennice Cisneros), some way into writer/director Sean Nichols Lynch’s Red Snow. “But I never actually met one in the flesh, I didn’t even know they were real until today. This is kinda a big deal for me.”
Olivia’s addressee is Luke (Nico Bellamy), a bona fide vampire who came crashing into Olivia’s Lake Tahoe cabin in the guise of an injured bat (“old school”, as Olivia comments), and is now sitting there in his human form, still weak, and dressed incongruously in the only clothes that were to hand – a pink nightgown and fur coat left by Olivia’s late mother. Luke is vulnerable, feminised, helpless – and although at first nervous around her bloodsucking guest, single, ditzy Olivia cannot quite believe her luck, as she sees in Luke not just an impossibly authoritative resource for her writing, but also a potential companion to stave off the loneliness of those cold winter nights.
Pretty soon the vampire hunter Julius King (Vernon Wells, Wez from Mad Max 2) has appeared on the scene, warning Olivia of the extreme danger that Luke and two other vampires in the area represent to humans like her – but Luke spins a different story about his kind being misunderstood and non-murderous. “Whatever that man told you,” Luke insists, “I’m not a bad person.” He reveals that Julius and his fellow vampire hunters in the Severon Group are “a bunch of jack-booted, facist thugs and they will kill anything that doesn’t fit into their narrow-minded view of the world. They’ve already wiped out unicorns and shapeshifters, and candy elves…” As Luke utters these words, dressed in women’s clothing, a subtext emerges of the vampire as poor, persecuted Other on the margins of sexuality and gender identity, constantly falling prey to an intolerant, bigoted lynch mob. The problem, though, is that we have seen what Olivia has not: the prologue to Red Snow in which a woman not unlike Olivia was lured out into the dark woods by a pair of vampires (Laura Kennon, Alan Silva) whose intentions are clearly malicious.
In other words, Red Snow offers a range of clashing vampirological models. On the dark side, Dracula and Nosferatu are duly name-checked, but so is the rather different Twilight series, with its young romance and internecine struggles. For what it is worth, Luke expressly describes FW Murnau’s Nosferatu as “a deeply offensive portrayal of our people… like our Birth of a Nation”, before confessing with a laugh, “I’m just fucking with you.” Indeed, the degree to which he is messing with Olivia is the key tension in a film that pulls in several directions. Its very title couples the snow of the Christmas period with the colour of blood – and while Olivia is certainly a committed devotee of the Yuletide spirit, decorating her house and herself with all the kitschy signifiers of the season, the cabin is also (as Julius openly observes) incongruously festooned with vampire memorabilia, including a pair of fake teeth on the Christmas tree. Olivia accommodates the wounded bat in a box as though it were a baby in a manger, merging two very different kinds of myth (and sensibility) for her own peculiar reimagining of the Nativity.
In this wintry world where vampires readily adopt different guises and costumes, and where the rules governing their attributes and behaviour seem fluid, Olivia is struggling not merely to stay alive (and maybe to keep Luke alive with her) in the face of various threats, but also to come up with a vampire story worth publishing. In her opening scene we see her reading a book on vampires, very briefly typing on her computer, and then heading outside to pick up a rejection letter for her novel Touched By A Vampire – a letter which she then adds to a large pile of them in a drawer. Olivia’s novel is stuck, and as Luke arrives to rewrite the vampire mythos for her, she too is rewriting her manuscript, while getting tips and notes from the horse’s mouth.
Which is to say that Red Snow is ultimately, like Barton Fink, Adaptation, Swimming Pool and Black Bear, a classic writer’s block narrative in which the protagonist’s creative process is writ large – and shown working itself out on screen even if these events are quite possibly taking place only in Olivia’s head. As she said in her interview with the vampire (a creature that even she had not ever believed was real), “I write about vampires” – and that may be all that she is doing here over her Christmas retreat alone in the cabin, redrafting her romantic horror novel into something a little less clichéd and more (post)modern. After all, as Olivia’s undead, perhaps imaginary informant tells her, “Vamps aren’t moping around in dusty old castles in Eastern Europe. They go to cool places – cool as in fun – Tokyo. London. Tahoe…”
Red Snow streams at FrightFest at Home at 9pm on Sunday 5th September.