The lifeblood drains early from “Vampire,” the English-language debut of Japanese multihyphenate Shunji Iwai (“All About Lily Chou-Chou”), who seems to have spread himself anemically thin by writing, directing, shooting, cutting and scoring the ineffectively bizarre pic himself. Not undead, but definitely a pervert, Kevin Zegers’ geeky title character prowls online for suicidal young femmes whose blood he can drink after euthanizing them. Abundantly goofy, but atmospheric only in spots, this flat-affect screwballer has its moments, and may attract a minor cult. Still, even amid the current vampire craze, Iwai’s stubbornly unsatisfying farce should keep “Vampire” mostly in the coffin.
Set in the Pacific Northwest, Iwai’s overcast-looking pic opens on Zegers’ Simon driving a young woman known only as Jellyfish (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who believes the two will be helping each other to kill themselves. But Simon, after gently easing Jellyfish to her death with sleeping pills and the drawing of blood, fails to fulfill his part of the joint suicide pact, instead slowly slurping the dead woman’s blood from a jar and then fleeing the scene.
A slow succession of oddball vignettes reveals that the vampire works in daylight as a high-school biology teacher, and that he freakishly cares for his mom (Amanda Plummer), who has Alzheimer’s, by keeping the old woman tied to huge balloons in their apartment so she can’t escape. On an impromptu fishing trip, Simon meets Laura (Rachael Leigh Cook), who becomes obsessed with him, breaking into his place and striking up one-way conversations with his mute mother.
Having successfully deflated the viewer’s expectation of horror after a half-hour or so, Iwai abruptly shifts gears by introducing Renfield (Trevor Morgan), whose own methods of acting vampiric are far more violent than Simon’s. A scene of Renfield viciously attacking a female victim while Simon watches in shock appears not only deeply disturbing but disconcertingly out of place in a movie that otherwise favors the low-key.
Later, as a gentle romance develops between Simon and another suicidal woman known as Ladybird (Adelaide Clemens), Iwai’s tonal palette begins to seem determined at random, while payoffs within any of the film’s varying moods are frustratingly withheld. The pic’s ungainliness increases even further in the final reels, as Iwai tosses out a half-dozen would-be endings while failing to make a case for the viewer’s interest in borderline-milquetoast Simon.
Actors in the film appear as little more than impassive props, while tech credits remain undistinguished, except in Iwai’s fastidiously composed scenes of ritual bloodletting — wherein, ironically enough, “Vampire” momentarily springs to life.