Juliet Landau in A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD | ©2020 Modern Films

Juliet Landau in A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD | ©2020 Modern Films

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Juliet Landau, Deverill Weekes, Amy Jennings, Meadow Williams, Seven McDonald, Charlaine Harris, Lance Henriksen, Tom Holland, Mariana Klaveno, Kim Newman, Gary Oldman, Robert Patrick, Ron Perlman, Anne Rice, Joss Whedon
Writers: Juliet Landau & Deverill Weekes
Director: Juliet Landau
Distributor: Modern Films
Release Date: December 14, 2020

A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD is a trippy, documentary-style horror drama. Directed by Juliet Landau, who co-wrote the film with her husband, cinematographer Deverill Weekes, the film viscerally (at times literally) explores the links between human predation and narcissism, and low self-esteem and being victimized.

A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD stars Landau as “Jules” and Weekes as “Dev,” a wife and husband who at least externally have much the same histories as the people who portray them. Landau even uses photos of her real-life parents, Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, as Jules’s folks.

At least in A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD, Jules did not have a happy childhood. Mom (as voiced by Dawn Didawick) and Dad (voiced by Harry Groener) put their own egos first. This results in Jules becoming a grown woman with continuing issues about her right to occupy space, never mind having a career and an ego of her own.

It makes sense, then, that Jules becomes obsessed with the case of a still-active serial killer who seems to believe he’s a vampire. She sees parallels between the plight of his victims – women who are so in need of validation that they’ll risk their lives for it – and her own psyche. She also wants to help catch the killer.

To the end of understanding vampirism, Jules interviews a lot of actors and writers who’ve dealt with vampirism in their work. These include Charlaine Harris, Lance Henriksen, Tom Holland, Mariana Klaveno, Kim Newman, Gary Oldman, Robert Patrick, Ron Perlman, Anne Rice, and Joss Whedon. Most of the interview clips feel like the kind of soundbites used for specials about vampires in pop culture. Oldman, however, gets into character as a concerned friend who worries that filmmaker Jules is taking things too far.

A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD movie poster| ©2020 Modern Films

A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD movie poster| ©2020 Modern Films

Jules and Dev travel to Santa Barbara, where the killer has struck again. Allowed access to the case by local detective Sal (Amy Jennings), Jules meets with various people associated with the case, including at least one woman (Meadow Williams) who misunderstands what it is to be attacked by a vampire. Meanwhile, it turns out the killer has a long-standing interest in Jules.

There are a lot of possible interpretations of what we’re seeing in A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD. Taken straight, it’s a much-better-shot-than-usual tale of people with cameras tangling with dangerous subjects.

However, if one wants to go with subtext that sometimes shrugs off being “sub,” the film has a lot to say about multiple ways in which self-image can play out between predator and prey, what the predator gets out of it, and why the prey may be immobilized. The killer’s phantasmagoric artwork, which could be described as Maxfield Parrish on acid, suggests another level of seduction. There’s much here that feels both philosophically and psychologically resonant.

Notably, Landau makes little of her own time playing the vampire Drusilla on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL. Granted, Drusilla is mad, murderous but not self-adoring. When another character brings the role up in A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD, Jules dismisses the topic as irrelevant to her investigation.

A PLACE AMONG THE DEAD has a thoughtful visual palette to go with its inquisitive, pensive tone. It’s liable to stir up arguments, but it’s definitely easy on the eyes, even as it teases the mind.

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