Driven by a Transylvanian aesthetic (by way of 1930s Vienna), Therapy For A Vampire never hides its intentions of piggybacking off the success of What We Do In The Shadows. From jarring arterial geysers of blood to a lively score, David Rühm’s standalone feels like a spiritual continuation of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s hilarious vampire mockumentary – intentional or not. Both movies deal with human/vampire interactions, both contain silly gags involving vampire mythos and both are cheekily light-hearted. Yet, only one succeeds at being a consistently funny genre satire, and the answer to which one it is shouldn’t come as a shock.
Spoiler alert: it’s not Therapy For A Vampire.
Rühm’s tale follows two sets of lovers who cross paths – one couple undead, the other fleshy humans. Local waitress Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan) and her painter companion Viktor (Dominic Oley) have hit a bit of a rough patch, which is only worsened when Count Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) sets his sights on Lucy. The Count’s own wife, Countess Elsa von Közsnöm (Jeanette Hain), has equally tantalizing plans, which involve Viktor’s artistic talents. As the four Vienna residents begin to learn more about each other, Viktor fights to keep his Lucy human as Count von Közsnöm temps her with abilities like flight and immortality. To be undead or mortal – how does one choose?
It’s important to know that Dr. Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) ties all characters together, since he’s both Count von Közsnöm’s therapist and Viktor’s employer of sorts. Viktor leaves a painting of his wife with Freud which sparks the Count’s interest, because he’s reminded of an old lover from hundreds of years back. In the painting, Lucy is depicted with blonde hair because of a fantasy Viktor has (which coincidentally makes her look exactly like the Count’s fond ex), even though his blonde obsession is lost in translation – it’s all very silly in setup, and a bit convoluted. Moral of the story? It’s all Freud’s fault!
The problem with Therapy For A Vampire is that Rühm’s sense of humor is very monotone, and not sharp enough to exploit his fanged subjects. A vain Count von Közsnöm complains about not having a visible reflection, bodies hover effortlessly, but it’s all very bland in terms of biting commentary. Jokes feel as dated as a 500-year-old vampire, while actors play about more obvious tropes involving bloodstains on ruffled collars. Minus Count von Közsnöm sucking the juices out of a steak like one might pull helium from a balloon, this is a comedy from bygone times that might find more entertainment in dramatic theater crowds. It’s not devastatingly bad, just vocally generic.
That said, Cornelia Ivancan drums up a girlishly innocent likability in Lucy when caught in Tobias Moretti’s dangerously vampiric gaze. Lucy’s attitude about being a vampire is endearingly childlike – angrily stomping her foot when she can’t fly – versus her sophisticated “captor’s” regal chest-puffing. Ivancan languishes when pitted “against” Dominic Oley’s Viktor, loudly overplaying the “unappreciated lover” angle. She needs the dangerous chemistry found in Count von Közsnöm’s cruel intentions to balance more wasted moments of relationship banter – even considering how overburdened it all gets. Both Lucy and Elsa von Közsnöm are acting out against male counterparts who seem to have lost interest, complicating things in a messy emotional four-way that’s more soapy than sincere – bedroom dramatics that never reach a level worth thrills or saucy intrigue. Rühm’s European romanticism does sport genuine bouts of class-clashing personality, but there’s a genuine lack of depth under each character’s flamboyant costume design.
Like I said, Therapy For A Vampire certainly isn’t a terrible experience. David Rühm strikes a few satirical laughs coupled with silly visual effects, but levitation and obsessive-compulsive bloodsuckers eventually grow tiresome without non-stop foolishness. It’s cute and kitschy, but Rühm’s softcore take on vampire mockery pulls its punches and weaves a familiar, weightless connection between jilted-ish lovers. You’ll get a few brief moments where buckets of fake blood are thrown on a character (What We Do In The Shadows does this better), a 1930s Eastern European feel (ditto previous parenthetical), and vampires who complain about their problems (ditto previous ditto) – a jovial affair, but ultimately unremarkable.
Maybe it's bad timing, but Therapy For A Vampire seems to be piggybacking off What We Do In The Shadows in almost every way (and it comes up short).