United States. 83 minutes. Directed by the Butcher Brothers, 2012. Starring Cory Knauf, Samuel Child, Mackenzie Firgens, Joseph McKelleher, Ryan Hartwig, Elizabeth Hentsridge.
The Hamilton vampire clan–twentysomething Francis (Cory Knauf), eldest brother David (Samuel Child), fraternal twins Wendell and Darlene (Joseph McKelheer and Mackenzie Firgens), and youngest brother Lenny (Ryan Hartwig)–have fled to Europe under the assumed name Thompson after a horrific incident in California leaves several people dead and Lenny severely wounded. While David stays in London caring for Lenny, and the twins research vampire history in Paris, Francis travels to the northwest of England to follow a lead about the Hamilton lineage. His inquiries lead him to the Stuarts–a family of vampires who agree to teach Francis and his siblings how to control his urges–and their beautiful daughter Riley (Elizabeth Hentsridge), in whom the disease never took hold. But are the Stuarts as friendly and accommodating as they seem?
Take a look at my review of The Hamiltons and it may strike you that I never once use the word “vampire.” (You may also note that I continually refer to Darlene as “Danielle.” I don’t know what’s up with that.) That’s because the film never use that word, either. The audience is not supposed to go into the movie knowing that the titular siblings are bloodsuckers–if I remember correctly, the reveal doesn’t come until about ten minutes before the film ends.
The Thompsons tries to avoid the word “vampire” as well–it’s used once or twice, although Francis makes a point of informing the viewer that the Hamiltons were born vampires, not turned, and can walk around in sunlight because they are not undead–but, for obvious reasons, hiding the vampirism isn’t a trick that writer/directors Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores (the Butcher Brothers) can try twice.
That being said, it’s still a disappointment that the Butchers have chosen to take a more conventional narrative path in the sequel. The Hamiltons was a sort of 21st-century spiritual successor to Martin with a side order of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a film that was more about dysfunctional family dynamics than it was about blood-drinking fiends. The Thompsons, on the other hand, is summed up well by the Total Film blurb on the DVD cover: “Twilight Meets Tarantino!”
Francis Thompson might not be Edward Cullen but the trope of the conflict between the vampire who tries to blend into human society versus the vampire who sees himself as being superior to his meals is a familiar one and The Thompsons doesn’t bring a whole lot that’s fresh to it. The twist that the Stuarts have laid a trap for the Thompsons will surprise a sum total of nobody, and the romance between Francis and Riley is more than a little forced.
However, these are flaws that the film could have gotten past; the mortal wound in the film is caused by the characterization. The Thompsons are separated for much of the film; Francis is once again the narrator and audience-identification character, but he’s nowhere near as interesting as a man in his mid-twenties than he was as a misfit teenager. David is nowhere near as uptight as he was in the first film (this is actually acknowledged in the narration) and is a lot blander as a result. No matter how hard Hartwig tries (and he acquits himself admirably), Lenny the scruffy teen will never be as terrifying as Lenny the savage monster in the crawlspace.
Wendell and Darlene are kept out of the action for much of the film, and while this makes narrative sense–the twins are the only Thompsons who are overtly perverse, sadistic and cruel, which hurts the thesis that the Stuarts are more evil than the Thompsons–their sidelining leaves a definite hole. (The Butchers seem to acknowledge this at the end, interrupting the credits for a brief scene that revels in the twins’, er, twin-ness.) Sadly, the Stuarts can’t fill that hole; they’re too one-dimensionally villainous, and the performances (particularly Sean Browne and Tom Browne as sons Cole and Ian) aren’t all that strong.
None of this is to say that The Thompsons doesn’t have its strong points. The action sequences are top-notch and the location work is splendid. Knauf is engaging even when his character isn’t, and McKelheer and Firgens steal every scene they’re in. And while there aren’t any shocks as intense as Lenny being led out of the crawl space in the first film, there are a couple of powerful scenes.
The Thompsons is certainly entertaining enough, although not particularly impressive. While there’s no doubt it suffers in comparison to its predecessor, it does perfectly fine as a standalone film, and it’s not really necessary to see The Hamiltons first. If the “Twilight Meets Tarantino!” log-line strikes you as something that’d be in your wheelhouse, you probably won’t be disappointed.