Movies: Red Snow (2021)

2021’s Red Snow was another movie I came across completely randomly, while browsing through some internet lists of best new Christmas horror movies. I went into it completely blind, like I usually do, and I’m not gonna lie; for the first few minutes, I thought my cavalier movie-choosing strategy was going to bite me in the ass. That’s only because I hadn’t realized that Red Snow was A) a vampire movie, and B) set up almost like a supernatural romcom and playing out similarly at first. But I stuck with it and I’m glad I did, because it ended up being pretty delightful, though don’t expect a balls-to-the-wall holiday bloodbath; it definitely does go in a horror direction in the third act and has some gore, but this leans pretty heavily into the comedy end of the scale, so just know that going in.

Red Snow looks to be the second feature-length effort from writer/director Sean Nichols Lynch, whose previous credits include 2015’s Prep School and a handful of short films. Although I didn’t recognize most of the actors here, they all did a mostly great job, particularly the two leads, but one actor pretty much everyone will recognize is Vernon Wells, who has a small role as a vampire hunter. Vernon Wells, as most every movie nerd knows, is an Australian character actor who’s been in loads of things, but is iconic for his performances in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Weird Science, and as the legendary Bennett from 1985’s Commando. He’s fantastic in this, and though I wish he’d been in it a bit more, even his brief appearance is wonderful.

The movie premiered in August of 2021 at London Frightfest, and garnered a lot of positive buzz as it made its way around the horror film festival circuit, earning several awards, before landing on several streaming platforms in December of that same year. As of this writing, you can watch the movie for free on Vudu or Plex, and you can also watch it free if you have an Amazon Prime subscription.

At the beginning of the story, we’re introduced to a young woman named Olivia (played by Dennice Cisneros), who is obsessed with vampires and is aspiring to be a vampire romance novelist. She hasn’t been having too much success in that regard, as a drawer full of rejection letters attests, but she seems determined.

We watch her go about her quiet and somewhat isolated life in her remote cabin in Lake Tahoe, which was left to her by her deceased mother. Christmas is only a few days away, measured by peppermint candies being pulled from Olivia’s Advent calendar, and Olivia appears content as she putters around the cozy cabin, reading a book of vampire stories (a book which I also own, incidentally), working on her novel, watching Nosferatu on her laptop, or drinking peppermint tea by her Christmas tree, which is festooned with plastic vampire fangs. Though she seems happy with her life, we sense that she might be somewhat lonely; additionally, her sister, married with children, calls her on the phone and tells her it’s unhealthy to isolate herself up there all alone during the holidays, author aspirations or no.

We as the audience already know that there are some vampire shenanigans afoot, because we’ve seen a trio of bloodsuckers in action out in the woods. Olivia, though, is clueless to the danger until one night when a wounded bat slams into the window of her cabin. She’s a little squicked out, but compassionate, and she gingerly scoops up the little fella and puts him in a shoebox, giving him some water and tending to his wound with a teeny Band-Aid. She leaves the bat in his box in the garage overnight.

Imagine her surprise, then, when she walks into the garage the next morning to find an attractive and very naked man lying on the floor in the midst of torn cardboard remnants. He has a nasty wound in his side, and when he turns to face her, it’s immediately clear that he’s a creature of the night: white eyes, fangs, deathly pallor, the whole deal. Olivia is freaked, naturally, but recovers her aplomb pretty quickly; she loves vampires, remember, and is super jacked to find out they’re real.

She brings the vampire—who reveals that his name is Luke (played by Nico Bellamy)—some clothes from her late mother’s closet, and goes to the butcher shop and brings back tubs of pig’s blood for him to drink so his wounds can heal. She even goes so far as to heat the blood up in the microwave in a mug like tea and serve it to him on a tray. He complains that the pig’s blood is gross, but despite the grumbling, he seems grateful for her help, as he’s too weak to go back out into the world on his own.

An excited Olivia immediately starts plying Luke with questions about the vampire “rules,” such as whether he can walk around in the daytime or if he’s bothered by crosses or garlic. Luke initially scoffs at her naïveté and wondrous interest, but he eventually warms to her and tells her what she wants to know. She allows him to stay in the garage, but locks him in there at night because she can’t quite trust him to vamp out on her while she’s sleeping; he claims he doesn’t actually kill people, just drinks some of their blood, but she isn’t sure how much she believes.

Meanwhile, a man named Julius King turns up on her doorstep shortly after Luke’s arrival, claiming to be a private investigator on the trail of three dangerous criminals, one of which, of course, is Luke. Olivia covers for her new friend, but Julius is suspicious that she knows more than she’s letting on, and decides to remain in the area. Luke’s other two vampire companions, it should be noted, are also lurking around in the woods, keeping an eye on Luke from afar as he recovers in the care of his human “friend.”

For a while, as I mentioned, the movie plays out almost like a supernatural romcom: the gruff Luke slowly softens toward Olivia, charmed by her enthusiasm about vampirism, and it appears that the two of them might be developing something of a romance, especially after Luke actually reads Olivia’s manuscript (titled, cringingly, Touched by a Vampire), and starts to give her encouragement and constructive criticism on how she can improve it.

The best aspects of the movie are the interactions between Olivia and Luke, which are funny and sort of sweet, but tinged with a perilous uncertainty. For example, Luke tells Olivia that Julius King is a vampire hunter with a shady, fascist organization whose mission is to wipe out every magical creature on Earth, including the sadly-now-extinct “candy elves” (“they’re as cool as they sound”), and that Julius was the one who shot him at the beginning of the movie (using a crossbow bolt dipped in holy water). And as I mentioned, Luke claims not to kill people, just drink blood from them, making the reasonable point that if he murdered people every night to feed, he’d be leaving corpses scattered all over the West Coast and would soon be noticed. But how much of what he tells Olivia is true, and how much is he playing into her romantic fantasies of vampires in order to get his own needs met? And what exactly will happen to Olivia’s fantastical notions when the vampire hunter and Luke’s undead companions inevitably come calling?

This was actually a pretty fun little movie; I’m not usually a huge fan of vampire movies (with some exceptions, of course), or horror comedies with a romcom edge, but this one was actually quite lovable, and definitely went in a more gory, horror direction toward the end. It was very difficult not to like Olivia’s character, as her nerdy earnestness and genuine excitement at meeting a real live vampire were really infectious, and Luke was a perfect foil, playing the reluctant love interest to a tee. I didn’t love the two other vampires (Jackie and Brock, played by Laura Kennon and Alan Silva, respectively), as I thought they were a little too over-the-top and a tad tryhard, but I didn’t mind it all that much, as their appearance signaled the start of the more blood-soaked third act.

If you like Christmas-set horror comedies and in particular would like to see one that gently skewers the whole “vampires as romantic heroes” trope, then this one should nicely fit the bill; besides that, it has a cozy, snowy holiday vibe that was really appealing. Don’t expect an out-and-out horror film, though, because it unspools mostly as a horror-tinged romantic comedy for the first two-thirds of it. In tone, matter of fact, it reminded me a bit of the 2016 film Colossal (that I talked about here), in which the actions of an alcoholic Anne Hathaway controlled the rampages of a kaiju on the other side of the globe, although Red Snow is much bloodier and more overtly horror than that. The sense of humor is similar, however, so if you liked Colossal, you’d probably like Red Snow as well. Brew up some peppermint tea and give it a spot in your Christmas horror rotation, and until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

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