Vampire stories are almost completely played out these days. Between TV shows and movies, there’s far from a shortage of media about blood-suckers at a viewer’s disposal. But still, that saturation doesn’t mean those stories can’t be entertaining when done well. Dave Schultz’s Rufus isn’t anything revolutionary in terms of vampire movies, but it’s still handled in an interesting way, full of intrigue, mystery, and emotion.
Rufus tells the story of a vampire (Rory Saper) left alone in a small town, trying to fit in and not allow anyone to find out what he is. He is taken in by the sheriff (David James Elliot) and the sheriff’s wife (Kelly Rowan) after his traveling companion is struck by a truck. From there, he begins to become one of the family, making friends with those around him, including a neighborhood girl (Merritt Patterson), all while unsuccessfully trying to hide the fact that he occasionally has a craving for blood.
Less a violent action film and more a character study, the movie focuses on the emotional side of living forever and only eating blood, and what effect that lifestyle has on trying to establish normal relationships. Again, that isn’t anything revolutionary for the genre, but the character of Rufus is well-crafted, and extremely well-acted by Rory J. Saper. It’s his story that makes the film interesting, and if the entire movie had focused on that, it would’ve been a much more enjoyable film than the actual result.
As it stands, the movie attempts to cram too many smaller stories into one film, with none of them being nearly as interesting as the story of Rufus. The subplots are handled as if they’re full plots of their own, and the villainous vampire hunter is thrown into the picture in a completely unnecessary way, far too late into the story. That addition causes the movie to have many scenes that could’ve simply been cut, and a drastically over-long feel. The conflict doesn’t come from whether Rufus will be caught from someone outside the town, it comes from whether he can find a way to fit in, and learn to be content with what he is.
There’s an attempt to make the film too much of a love story when it seems Rufus’ search for acceptance is much more important than his search for love. Most of the scenes between Saper and Patterson are enjoyable, and the two have quality chemistry on screen, but that story never really seems to go anywhere worth going.
Aside from Saper, much of the cast struggles. It feels as if they are playing the idea of a cop, the idea of a mother who lost a son, or the idea of a school jock, as opposed to actual, living and breathing characters. None of the performances are scathingly horrible, but on the whole they don’t reach the level of Saper, and that stands out.
The story fails to make sense much of the time too. In the first half, there’s no question that there’s something going on with Rufus, and that mystery is very intriguing. However, the other characters have hardly any reason for anything they do or say. That’s alright in small doses, but when every action seems forced and without motivation, it becomes more confusing than interesting.
Rufus, on the other hand, is one of the most compelling characters I’ve seen in a long time. Everything he does, and every subtlety of Saper’s performance, hints at something bigger. It’s difficult to not be completely engrossed by his actions. He plays the stoic character quite well, which is something, that if done wrong, can end up being incredibly bad. That is not the case here.
That isn’t to say there aren’t problems with the character, especially in the way he is written. Schultz’s script never feels on-the-nose, and it never seems to lull too drastically, but a lot of questions are raised without being answered and inconsistencies are present that distract from the rest of the film. Such as the fact that for someone who’s spent so much time trying to hide what he really is, Rufus seems to forget he shouldn’t have been alive in WWII very often. It’s also planted at the beginning that he once visited the town, but that potential complication is never fully explored. While those are somewhat minor things, they distract from the movie as a whole, which usually doesn’t make for a quality film.
Small distractions aside, it’s Rufus’ internal struggle that makes the movie interesting, but far too little of the movie is focused on that. The conflicts he has with those in the community, or even the man who’s attempting to hunt him down, just lack the bite that his powerful internal turmoil has. If far more of the movie had been spent tackling that issue, the story would’ve been much more interesting.
As it stands, Rufus is an entertaining take on a vampire story, and it succeeds when dealing with the vampire himself, thanks mostly to Saper’s performance. Unfortunately, the movie is packed too tightly with other, smaller stories, and there are far too many forced performances, a combination that serves to bog down the stronger elements of the film until the whole thing ends up simply mediocre.