A Place Among the Dead (2020) greatly surpassed my expectations. The movie builds and builds as it unfolds, and some of its shots reminded me of some infamous shots from The Blair Witch Project (1999) and felt similar in style to that of Creep (2014) – I thought director/co-writer Juliet Landau had this movie operating near the quality of those beloved pseudo-documentary horror classics. Towards the beginning, however, I stopped the film to look up what the film was even about because I had no idea what was going on, starting off with something like the opening of Persona (1966) with a very cerebral and eerie montage, then morphing into completely different modes a number of times leading up to its emotionally explosive ending.
Juliet Landau and Deverill Weekes wrote, starred, and filmed an exploration into the effects of evil on the innocent, centered around a narrative that follows a woman compelled to catch a serial killer. As she uncovers clues, she becomes caught in a game of cat and mouse, as her documentary sees the focus change from other victims to she herself becoming taunted by this murderer of women, who she believes is a vampire named Don Darcel, indulging in his narcissism and promoting vanity. The movie also featured interviews about different actors’ insights into evil and the narcissism of vampirism, including my loves Ron Pearlman and Gary Oldman, and thoughts from the likes of Interview With the Vampire author Anne Rice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series creator Joss Whedon, and notorious movie villain Robert Patrick.
A Place Among the Dead gave an initial first impression of being an arthouse feature, then felt like a documentary, going from voice over, to monologue, to interviews, and then back to theatrical feature. At first, this fluid style of narrative-feature/documentary was disconcerting because this method is usually reserved for mockumentaries, but the serious tone of this movie is far from something like What We Do In the Shadows (2014), which this movie may just have now tied with as a favored vampire scripted-documentary. Though a tad confusing at first, eventually it grew on me and I just let the movie take me on its wild ride.
I adored Juliet Landau’s performance, which hit notes within the range of ‘straight (wo)man act’ to maddening mental descent in her role as the lead documentarian in the movie. Overall, there was not much that I did not like about A Place Among the Dead, it had excellent performances, incredible sound design and an interesting musical score that was primarily chamber-orchestral and gothic influenced, and I felt that the writing was well-done as well, with most of the monologues and a good amount of the dialogue sounding a lot like poetry.
Besides A Place Among the Dead’s achievement in making a vampire film with a fresh approach in portrayal, the movie was also shot incredibly well. The interviews looked like typical documentary interviews, but the parts where Juliet and cameraman Dev were investigating were framed like art – perfectly colored, lit like a dream (literally, dreamlike), and its editing kept the movie at an enjoyable pace – though the film was a bit confusing to follow at first, in the end the editing coherently brought the pieces together. I appreciate director/co-writer Juliet Landau’s undeniably creative approach to telling this story, and it is certainly a unique entry into vampire cinema cannon that should especially appeal to true crime enthusiasts.
8.5 out of 10