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‘You’re that girl from Buffy,” someone says to actor-writer-director Juliet Landau at one point in A Place Among the Dead. Landau makes that thumbnail description of herself – she is indeed best known for playing the vampiric Drusilla in multiple episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel – a badge of both honour and shame in this peculiar mockumentary-horror-psychodrama mashup. Depending on the angle of view, it’s either an excoriation of Hollywood narcissism and solipsism, or a product of it. As such, it suggests that Landau is clearly an interesting and complicated character, but her direction here is less compelling, given what a mess it is by the end.
The idea is that Landau, as herself, is making a doc with her husband-cinematographer Dev (real-life cinematographer Deverill Weekes) about vampires and evil in general and specifically a local bloodsucker/serial killer named Darcel (seen only in glimpses but credited as being played by both Bryan Michael Hall and Seth Bewley) who makes brightly coloured paintings of his victims. For the most part, it’s left unclear whether Darcel is the real undead or just a psycho with a taste for satanic imagery and cheesy artwork, not dissimilar to the kind you might see in a seaside town’s commercial art gallery.
As Landau gets ever more deeply involved with the police investigation into his murders, in her spare time she and Dev interview various experts on vampirism playing versions of themselves, including Gary Oldman, novelist Anne Rice, Landau’s old boss Joss Whedon and the novelist-critic Kim Newman, who is as perspicacious as ever. These mock-doc components are far more persuasive than watching Landau overact in the gothic fiction sections.
Meanwhile, there’s something troubling about the way she keeps cutting in photographs of her real-life parents – actors Martin Landau and Barbara Bain – whenever her voiceover is invoking evil, suggesting there was something very dark going on in her childhood home. Either that or she’s just messing around with the porous boundaries between truth and fiction in Hollywoodland.
It’s hard to know what the point is as it gets very experimental by the end, which is another way of saying the whole narrative sort of implodes into random, darkly-lit imagery and gloomy blasts of Mozart.
• A Place Among the Dead is available on digital platforms from 9 November.
Source: The Guardian
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