A Place Among the Dead 2020 Movie Review Online
Director: Juliet Landau
Writers: Juliet Landau, Deverill Weekes
Stars: Juliet Landau, Gary Oldman, Robert Patrick
‘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 Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel – a badge of both honour and shame in this peculiar mockumentary-horror-psychodrama.
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, 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. It’s left unclear whether Darcel is really undead or just a psycho with a taste for satanic imagery and cheesy artwork, 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, 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 in her childhood home. Or maybe she’s just messing around with the porous boundaries between truth and fiction in Hollywoodland.
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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.