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TIFF 2021: KICKING BLOOD (2021) Review

Neil reviews another film from TIFF 2021, this time it is KICKING BLOOD which he calls “a thought provoking character portrait.”



Kicking Blood

Directed by Blaine Thurier, Kicking Blood screens as part of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.


Vampire Anna (Alanna Bale) is disappointed with eternal life. She’s less guilt-stricken than tired — tired of the people she preys on, tired of having to say goodbye to people she likes. Her one mortal friend, Bernice (Rosemary Dunsmore), is deathly ill, and a chance encounter with suicidal alcoholic Robbie (Luke Bilyk) has only exacerbated her weariness. Her fellow bloodsuckers see humans as food with an annoying tendency to talk back, but Anna is perplexed and even inspired by human foibles — specifically Robbie’s determination to kick booze and Bernice’s determination to live and die on her own terms.


The vampire genre is certainly, finally, on the rise. Following the deconstruction of the vampire at the hands of Twilight, films such as Jakob’s Wife have sought to reinvent the once terrifying creature.

With Kicking Blood, writer/director Blaine Thurier attacks the genre from another new angle. Those searching for blood and gore need not apply here. Kicking Blood is a sophisticated, measured character portrait focussing on the addictions of its two leads. For the human, Robbie (Luke Bilyk), the story of this film is one of learning to move on from his alcoholism. In doing so he inspires the vampiric Anna (Alanna Bale) to kick her blood habit.

The film is much more focussed on the semantics rather than the act. For instance, Robbie is rarely seen drinking though often seen hungover. There is more context to the film’s vampiric characters but, alas, this does not translate to much stalking and biting. Instead Thurier focusses on the minutia of both conditions. Particularly Anna’s distaste at her pack’s choice of victims. Though the film doesn’t define how long she has been a vampire, it goes to great lengths to illustrate how bored she is with the situation.

It’s Anna who is the true central focus of the film. Her constant state of perplexity at human behaviour comes across almost like a childish curiosity. There’s a need to understand the people in her life which leads to a touching friendship with Bernice (Rosemary Dunsmore). Bale’s rebellious charisma oozes from the screen. She’s like the ultimate goth cool kid looking down on her peers for not following her every move.

Anna and Robbie’s afflictions are similar in many ways. Both believe they rely on their fixes to survive. Through Thurier’s intimate character study we learn enough about this world to understand the context of both their circumstances. Supporting characters in both their lives help flesh out the stories (and their addictions) further.

Jonathon Cliff brings a delectable visual style to Kicking Blood. Overall it’s a very dark world but one which is often bathed in solid, neon colours. Aside from the library we rarely see a full set bathed in light. It brings a unique look to the film which retains focus on the characters.

Ohad Benchetrit and Justin Small’s score ties together all the elements of the film seamlessly. The score plays with different genres, much in the same way as the story, elevating the overall experience.


A curious take on the vampire mythology, Kicking Blood is a though provoking character portrait rooted in the murky world of demonic horror.

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