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The Thompsons (2012)

I've been waiting for this movie ever since I heard a rumour about it on the net -  and then promptly forgot about it, because my memory is shitty when it comes to things that don't exist yet which I have to remember for a (somewhat remote) future. Now it's here, now I was able to watch it, and now I can safely say that I am not disappointed at all.

First things first: If you haven't watched The Hamiltons, this movie will bring you much less joy than it does if you have watched it. The protagonists / main characters aren't explained or given a lot of characterisation - in fact, there's pretty much none of that. Besides for a quick "this is me, these are the twins, this is my oldest brother, and this is my little brother" via voice-over, don't expect anything on the protagonists. Then again, this is perfectly acceptable - characterisation happened in the first movie, and if you want to know who the people are that you're watching, go and watch The Hamiltons. It's fucking worth it.

We start out with Francis (Cory Knauf) in a box... looks like he's been buried.

The narrative is being told in a pretty interesting way - it practically starts over three times, which may make it appear a bit confused in the beginning. However, this style of storytelling actually serves to heighten the suspense and makes it much more interesting than if it had been told straight from the beginning of the story. Very well done, Butcher Brothers. I already liked your previous movies, but this takes the cake. It's not just serving us a simple story from the beginning to the end - it's starting right somewhere in the middle, runs with it, then turns around and starts again earlier, runs with that, and then turns its back on us in order to start once again. And for some reason it works. It works really well. Kudos to the guy(s) who came up with that idea - in this day and age, we're all too used to straight storytelling. Something more complex like this is very much welcome: The story becomes much more interesting this way, and the viewer is sucked into the narrative straight on. The voice-overs (all of them by the main protagonist, Francis, played again by Cory Knauf) also help to intensify the experience.

The narrative told in this movie is that of our beloved monstrous family trying to find others of their kind in "thee olde worlde", which is USA-speak for Europe. It's not directly picking up where The Hamiltons left us - at least 6 years have passed. Francis has grown up admirably, Wendell (Joseph McKelheer) gained some weight, Darlene (Mackenzie Firgens) has a new haircolour (and did she lose weight?!), David (Samuel Child)  is less stuck up in his ass, and Lenny (Ryan Hartwig) actually became a member of the family that's not locked up in a cage.

Other things haven't changed that much, though: The twins (Wendell and Darlene) are still slightly psychotic (enjoyably so!), Francis still broods, and David still has some kind of idea about American family values to be held up. Together with their Need for human blood, the family values they all share are the reason why the Hamiltons / Thompsons are not in their native USA anymore but instead chose to haunt good ol' Europe.

Why? Well, after an incident on the road (people were eaten and killed, not really sure in what order, as we're talking about my beloved family of vampiric miscreants here) during which their youngest brother was severely injured, which resulted in them having been forced to leave the US. I just say "vampire killings"*... these resulted in the family ending up in Europe - separated, searching for others of their kind with their little brother Lenny hovering on the brink of death.
The twins went to France, David (+ Lenny) and Francis went to the UK, all of them (supposedly, in the case of the twins) trying to find ...well, others like them who can help them with keeping Lenny alive. After all, being (living) vampires and all that, they can't just march up to a hospital and ask for help. I guess(?).

Lots of people seemed to think that The Hamiltons wasn't a proper or even good vampire movie due to the lack of fangs and neck-biting (or so I gathered from discussions and reading reviews). The Thompsons does definitely not suffer from this. It's overdoing the whole vampire-angle at some times in my opinion (RRRAAAAAH! FANGS! RRRAAAAAH! RED EYES!! RRRAAAAH! JAWS!!!), but hey - I'm a fan of subtlety when it comes to certain genres of horror. Nonetheless, it's a great fucking movie. It's no secret that I'm a big fan of The Hamiltons**, and this is a GREAT sequel.

It brings up the question of the monstrosity of our protagonists again - "we need blood to survive. Our disease makes us kill to live. We're that kind of monster."

The topic is brought up in a different way than in the first movie, though. We are still watching the narrative mainly through the interpretative lens of Francis - but unlike in The Hamiltons, he has grown up, and this is reflected in the narrative.
It is also reflected in the acting; Cory Knauf - although I still think he mostly plays himself - has definitely gained weight as an actor (not in the physical sense!). His portrayal of Francis is much more nuanced than in The Hamiltons

Here, we have acceptance of the monstrosity that defines our protagonists. It's not Francis whining on about why his family sucks, why his family and life is horrible or why he feels horrible anymore. He grew up and learned to accept that he will never be a normal human being, will never have (normal) human friends and a normal human life. It is the acceptance of the inevitable, the acceptance of how horrible life can be whilst still making something out of it. Whilst still creating a positive narrative for himself, against all odds, against all of the fucked up terror that is their blood-dependend existence.

Back to the plot:

Francis is told to travel to a small English town called Ludlow*** in order to find someone ('Masterson' -- heheh, nomen est omen, eh?) who could know how to keep Lenny alive - and how to live as a monster in this all too human world of, well, non-monstrous humans. Because let's face it: If you're not human and never were taught the human rules of the game of life, the rules of how to act around humans, you'll have difficulties fitting in without being noticed as being different. And being noticed as being different is bad.

Take eating food. At about minute 34 we're treated to a vampire family feast that is in no way what you'd imagine. The following dialogue takes place between the British vampire patriarch (a good but not outstanding performance by Daniel O'Meara) and Francis:

- "Haven't you trained your body to eat?"
- "I get sick. Don't you?"
- "Part of living among other in this world is presenting the idea that you're no different."
- "We put up our fair share of charades, but... There's nobody here..."
- "That's the lack of discipline that landed you here."
---- Agreed. But if no one ever tells you that not eating is weird and makes you suspicious in human eyes, you simply can't really know that, much less understand it. On that note: Yes, training your body to eat 'normal' food indeed makes people less wary of you. It's weird, I know.

Anyways - Francis is, after initial (weird!) problems that at times masquerade as rites of initiation, accepted into the vampire family he finds in Ludlow... and then everything foes horribly, horribly wrong. The family of others he thought he had found turns out to be... well. Quite elitist, to say the least, and not at all as friendly as he initially thought them to be. Vampire fights, woooot!
I'm not going to spoil this one, as the twist(s) are actually not foreseeable in their entirety and add to the enjoyment of the movie A LOT.

The Thompsons is not a gory movie, but it has its moments. It adds the topic of hunting for food, monster-on-human violence, human-on-human violence (aka 'serving dinner'), monster-on-monster violence, and rape. Could be considered tough shit for someone not as desensitised to violence as myself.

AND it deals with the whole family-thing we already know from The Hamiltons. This time, though, it's from two different points of view - that of the Hamiltons, and that of the British vampire clan. One wonders - would everything be so much different if the situation was reversed...?

Also, the interesting issue of being an outsider is raised again, just as they did in The Hamiltons. Francis and his family are outsiders to humanity; Francis is an outsider to his own family (or at least he was in the first movie)... and here, we see how it is to be an outsider within a family of monsters. A very good idea that not just implies but brutally shows the subjective nature of the concepts of 'normality' and 'outsider' - it all depends on what you define as 'normal' after all...

Sociologically sound, with a depth of social issues clad in the garb of vampire-horror that is hardly ever seen in vampire flicks or horror flicks in general. The Thompsons opens up the can of worms of multiple layers of social stratification within the realm of the monstrous, and that these layers interact with one another. It also touches upon the need for trust in (non-)human beings and how we all deal with betrayal - and it also deals with the nigh inevitable fact of betrayal as part of a stratified society when not knowing the rules that other people made up and you should, ideally, live by, without having any idea about the why and how. 

Something that definitely differentiates The Thompsons from The Hamiltons is that the story they create is actually a story worthy of a full-length movie. I did comment on the issue of how the original story of The Hamiltons isn't really material for a full movie in my review of that flick - and this time, they managed to actually come up with a story that fills this movie instead of milking one single assumption ('teenage-vampire-initiation-story') to the death in 80+ minutes. Kudos for that. 

Honestly, I expected this movie to be shit - and yes, I can look forward to a movie and still expect it to be shit. Gladly, the Butcher Brothers managed to thwart all of my fears, creating a well-crafted flick that deserves to be watched by more people than just hardcore (indie-) horror fans. Good script, good story, nice pictures, solid camerawork.

I would totally give this movie a *really* high score, if it wasn't for the CGI. It sucked. Seriously. It's most obvious with the fangs and jaws of the evil British vampires****. It truly doesn't look enticing. Maybe this is because I am not a big fan of CGI in general, however. The red eyes were irritating as well, to say the least.
Camera and cutting are consistently good, though. The one other point of criticism I'd have would be that I'd have enjoyed more of the twins, but then again, this movie is mainly about Francis (again!) and his interaction with the 'other' family of monsters. 

The ancient distinction between 'Us' and 'Them' is shown here once again - but, which makes it much more interesting than the normal Us vs. Them stories, this narrative takes place within the realm of 'Them'. I would be hard pressed to define blood drinking living vampires as 'Us', and I guess so would be everyone else watching this movie; out protagonist is, however, clearly one of 'Them' - and at the same time, by virtue of being our protagonist, one of 'Us'. I would so draw a diagram to illustrate the intricacies of differentiation between the concepts of the Inside and the Outside in this movie, but I shall spare you that. Yes, I am a wonderful person, I know.

7.95 / 10 torn-off faces in a French apartment

* Best. Comment. Ever. from voice-over Francis on the topic - "They called it the 'vampire killings', as if we were some stupid cult or passionate Twilight lovers...". I had to laugh out loud so freakin' hard. *winks at the target audience*

** And there will be a review of The Violent Kind!

*** Am I really the only one who sees a horror reference in that name?
**** One wonders whether this should be interpreted as a reference to the incestuous inbreeding-habits of the royal families of Europe and their at times monstrous regimes over the non-royals aka every-fuckin'-one else...

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