Vampires have come a long way since the days of “Nosferatu.” They have gone from dark and sickly demons to sexual, perverse night crawlers and now, to tortured, brooding Adonises on the WB. They are hip now, they are with it, and in Michael Rymer’s “Queen of the Damned,” they are even teen idols.
But the film itself, a liberal adaptation of an Anne Rice novel, is not quite as slick. Flat acting and egregious writing slows the plot to a pathetic limp. Worse yet is Rymer’s inability to decide on a particular mood or aesthetic. He is neither completely serious about portraying these fantastical creatures and their world, nor is he willing to joke and play on the rather comical idea of a vampire rock star.
Lestat (Stuart Townsend), after a disgruntled vampire adolescence spent sulking in shadows, sleeps off his angst for a hundred years and wakes up to the world of modern rock ‘n’ roll. A garage band has taken to practicing in his tomb, so he does the natural thing and becomes their lead singer, banking on his bedroom eyes and his fangs to make the band famous.
And it works. Modern-day fans eat up the vampire schtick and wave banners that shout, “Suck me, Lestat!” Lestat’s fame not only makes bad eyeliner and blood red lips really trendy, but it also makes him the target of vampire researcher Jessie (Marguerite Moreau) and a coven of vampires who want their existence to remain a secret. His music even awakens Akasha (Aaliyah), the title character, who sets out to reclaim her throne with Lestat at her side.
As if all of this were not absurd enough, the acting precludes any suspension of disbelief. Rymer certainly has no idea of the difference between melodrama and drama, and he directs his actors accordingly.
Townsend is more a mockery of a vampire than anything else. He has the requisite sultry looks and confident strut, but his talent and appeal end there, leaving only a really bad accent.
Moreau is equally uninspired. That she and Townsend are forced to deliver some ridiculous lines is a weak excuse. In an attempt to convince Lestat to turn her into a vampire, Jessie says “Do it, please, let me be with you” with all the enthusiasm of Ben Stein as the economics teacher in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
The only decent performance comes from the late Aaliyah. While the poor writing is inescapable, Aaliyah nails the eerie sexuality of vampires. Townsend may be sexy, but only in a sniveling wannabe rock star way, like an untalented but pretty-boy lead singer, certainly not a commanding undead demigod. But Aaliyah moves as if she has many more joints and muscles than humanly possible — she clicks and quakes with age while still appearing natural and graceful.
The differences between Townsend’s and Aaliyah’s performances demonstrate a disconnection in the film: it can not decide how to portray vampires or the world in which they come alive. Long gone is the decadent age of “Interview with the Vampire,” and in its place is an odd pastiche of old and new that never quite seems to be part of the same chronology.
Instead of utilizing the tension between the old era — when vampires were vampires — and the modern age when they are angst-ridden and self-pitying, Rymer lets the differences contradict and negate each other. The result is a tepid, ill-defined vampire, too weak to fulfill our base desires for a horror movie stereotype and too undeveloped to rise to the level of a complex character.
While he mostly relies on melodrama, Rymer cautiously attempts some humor, which fails only because it seems so out of place. One funny moment had a crazed fan begging for entrance into Lestat’s Los Angeles home. Lestat had recently finished explaining how far he had come from centuries before, when the fan shouted, “I came all the way from Tarzana!” Had Rymer tried more humor with more confidence, perhaps in the sarcastically dark vein of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” it might have helped relieve the film’s apathy.
What “Queen of the Damned” can not accomplish with writing and acting it attempts to solve with effects and wardrobe, neither of which have the planned result. The special effects often seem hokey, as do the mossy, foamy set pieces (although the set for Lestat’s concert is quite effective, borrowing a bit from Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre’s “California Love” video).
To some extent the soundtrack accomplishes what the effects miss. With five songs co-written by Korn frontman Jonathan Davis, the music is appropriately seedy and grungy. Marilyn Manson, Papa Roach, and the Deftones contribute as well, and only Aaliyah is strangely and unfortunately missing.
But despite its rocking soundtrack, “Queen of the Damned” is far from a rocking film. In terms of acting, writing, and aesthetic, Rymer can not capture the vampire underworld we expect of such films, nor can he depict the seedy extravagance of modern rock ‘n’ roll. The film is meant to be undead but it is instead unfeeling, presenting vampires with neither soul nor bite.