One Bite too few, One Boob too many
What makes a vampire movie sexy? For most people I have talked with, it is the subtle sexuality in the biting of the neck, the mysterious nature of the vampire, and the danger he or she represents. Vampire movies have always been saturated with eroticism. The Forsaken takes this idea further. My first thought after seeing it was that it was a poorly made B-movie with a relatively large budget, that took itself way too seriously, featuring gratuitously naked females and mediocre acting. The Forsaken seems to think that a cool soundtrack will make it hip and that nudity will make it sexy. Wrong.
We are introduced to Sean (Kerr Smith) in Los Angeles, where he cuts movie trailers for low budget horror movies. With tidy brown hair and neat dress, Sean is portrayed as a hardworking, nice guy with a backbone (as we can see when he puts his job on the line in order to demand time off of work to attend his sister’s wedding in Miami). In order to save some money and have some fun, Sean takes a job driving a rich divorcee’s Mercedes to Miami. Early in his trip, he picks up a hitchhiker named Nick (Brendan Fehr), who turns out to be a vampire hunter. On their way through the great state of Texas, Sean and Nick pick up a girl (Izabella Miko) who has been bitten by a vampire and proceed to use her as a homing device in order to lure the main vampire (Johnathon Schaech) to his death. In The Forsaken, vampirism is a “telegenic” infection of the blood, a disease whose effects may be deterred by the use of a pill cocktail discovered by an HIV+ doctor in the 1980s, and whose only cure is the destruction of the original vampire. The vampires communicate a great deal through telepathy, hence the means by which Nick is able to use the girl as a homing device.
Just like many vampire movies in the past, The Forsaken takes certain liberties with the history of vampirism. In this version, vampires originated right after the Crusades, in a battle in which 200 French soldiers were left for dead by the Turks. Only nine survive, and a demon appears, offering them eternal life. Eight take the deal and use the ninth’s blood and flesh as a means of solidifying it. When daylight comes, they are so ashamed of what they have done that they retreat to a cave until nightfall, upon which time they go their separate ways. One of these is the vampire whom Nick and Sean must kill in order to save both of their lives and that of the girl.
This woman’s role in the movie, while far from being multi-faceted or complex, is the most intriguing of the cast. In total, she only speaks about three times in the entire movie, yet there are a number of aspects to her role that I find particularly engaging. One of these is her name. Apparently, it is Megan, but I do not remember the cast uttering her name once. Her lack of an established identity, beyond that of victim and object to be fought over, adheres to the traditional women’s role in horror movies—the pedestal on which the battle between good and evil rests. Now, some women are solely victims, body count, but there is usually one female who is the heroine or who will be rescued by the hero. The nameless girl, however, seems to fall into both categories. Because she remains nameless and because her body is given more attention than her personality, she aligns with the former classification of a nameless female victim. However, because she is the object of affection for Sean as well as his damsel in distress, her role is integral to the plot, making her a pseudo-heroine if only for the fact that she survives.
Her virtual lack of lines is another engaging aspect of her role in the movie. The girl truly only speaks in the last fifteen minutes of the movie, and only for a total of about two minutes. This silence works along the same line as her relative absence of a name, making her more a nameless victim than a central character. Usually, her body seems to do the speaking for her, as in the film’s first scene, when she is in the shower, washing off blood. This scene makes her seem important (because she’s the sole focus in the opening scene) and also reduces her significance by focusing on her wet body.
The Forsaken goes on to use her body as a little more than just eye candy. It serves as a point of departure for an exploration of vampirism and its effects. For instance, the part of the body we normally associate with vampires is the neck. Vulnerable, accessible, and containing a major artery, the neck is open enough to the public eye so that vampire movies from more modest generations could develop that sexual aura without being extremely overt. The Forsaken, however, moves beyond this subtlety by placing the nameless woman’s bite wound near her groin. And this demonstrates my biggest problem with the movie: it pushes too hard in an area that doesn’t need overt investigation and does not examine areas that could actually make for an intriguing horror movie. Instead of developing the characters’ personalities and histories, for example, the creators take the easy way out by giving exorbitant amounts of attention to their sexuality—something for which U.S. audiences have shown an insatiable hunger for time and again. Horror movies appeal to the desire to be terrified, and if it includes a strong erotic insinuation, so much the better. The kind of terror that a horror movie (hopefully) produces is a similar feeling in some ways to sexual titillation, so the outright combination of the two found in vampire movies often fuels that appeal.
Vampire movies rely heavily on both those attractions by leaning on intense heterosexual connotations as well as the threat of death or the loss of, say, a soul. While there are a few moments that made me squirm and jump (to be fair, though, it must be said that I am a squirmer when watching horror movies in general), for the most part The Forsaken left little to the imagination. The Forsaken tries too hard to be the sexiest new entrant in the vampire movie genre. And it fails.