Neuchatel 2013 Review: CHIMÈRES Heralds a New Talent in Swiss Horror

He's a vampire, and that's OK.

Such is the verdict thirtysomething couple Alex and Livia reach about halfway through Chimères, a surprisingly intimate genre work that evokes Kübler-Ross as much as it does Cronenberg.

A botched blood transfusion during a Romanian vacation fills Alex with what he later finds out was 'tainted blood'. No matter! He's a professional photographer preparing a big show with girlfriend Livia, and this newfound aversion to light, with nothing to say for a developing taste for blood, is hardly going to put a crimp in their plans. Only, as is often the case with latent vampirism, it really, really does.

As his fangs grow in and skin goes pale, he turns inward and falls into a deep depression. She, on the hand, refuses to acknowledge her partner's transformation, and veers more towards anger and denial. Later, a kind of bargain is reached. Where better to go vampiric than French Europe, land of blood sausages and barely-cooked meat?

Fans of the genre can probably guess that steak tartare is never going to satiate bloodlust, and there seems to be no bigger fan than Chimères director Olivier Beguin himself. In his first feature length film, Beguin plays ably with both genre conventions and the necessities of low-budget filmmaking. Rather than the usual focus on the hunger and the hunt, the film mines more intimate territory, examining how Alex's transformation affects his relationship with Livia, and more intriguingly, his own sense of self.

Much of the film's first half is set in the couple's apartment, maybe due to budget and location constraints. It gives Beguin ground to repeatedly indulge his favorite bit of imagery: a shot of an outwardly 'normal' Alex surrounded by mirror reflections and self-taken photographs showing him in full made-up ghoul mode. Maybe not the most understated, true, and often (over) used for jump-scares, but the grappling-with-the-man-in-the-mirror bit actually works quite well thematically.

So too do the interesting editing choices in the film's opening. The film skirts around the inciting incident that sends Alex to Transylvania Community Hospital rather playfully for the first 15 minutes, intercutting between the couple during the lead up in romantic idyll, and in the aftermath, back home, supposedly on the mend, heading quickly down the route to bloodsuckerville. By the time we actually see what went down, it packs a deeper punch (and gives team Chimères more bang for their buck) based on the fifteen minutes of mounting narrative tension preceding it, built on nothing but the smart use of Final Cut.

To the extent that the movie is less about the descent into vampirism than what such a fundamental bodily change does to a long-term relationship, Chimères is a midnight movie evil twin to Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways. While Dolan's arthouse melodrama is about a man changing genders, the basic through-line, pitting the built up love and trust of a couple against the man's transforming nature, and the equal care and attention paid to both leads, remains the same. That being said, while narrative echoes may be shared, Chimères is in no way a moody chamber drama.

Key in that description is 'midnight movie'. Director Beguin, a devotee of the genre, swings for the moon to give his audience the goods. There's plenty of boobs and blood (as you can see above, often at the same time), throats ripped open and heads collapsed. The film opens up considerably for the last third, pivoting from Alex and Livia's dance of acceptance to the more outward threat from a local gang they've angered -- turns out, gnawing on gang-bangers doesn't win you underworld love.

This last act gives both leads the chance to flex their physical muscles alongside their dramatic, and while they are both quite strong (in both senses), star Jasna Kohoutova, trained in circus arts and for whom Beguin wrote the role, gives the real standout turn. If the film doesn't have quite the means to fully pull off the bone-crunching blowout it goes out on, it's hard to fault its earnest desire to entertain. Chimères really knows how to play to its audience. Especially if said audience is seeing it at the late show, beer in hand and thirsty for blood.

Chimères is premiering at the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival. Distribution TBD.

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