The poster to Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson and Gaukur Úlfarsson’s Icelandic horror film Thirst announces itself as “the new & most bad-a*s gay vampire zombie splatter movie you’ll ever see… ever.” That may very well be true, purely due to the lack of competition. A tagline does not a movie make, however, and while the filmmakers certainly have some fun with the concept and embrace their guerilla roots, their lack of coherent storytelling skills – and an over-reliance on (torn) dick jokes – is unlikely to quench anyone’s thirst for cinematic ingenuity.
Hjörtur (Hjörtur Sævar Steinason) is a thousand-year-old vampire, luring men into his car to chomp down on their privates. He doesn’t touch women because he’s a gentleman. Indeed, the very first scene has Hjörtur gobbling down someone’s penis as if it were a bratwurst. He’s despondent, lonely, allowing others to hurt him, perhaps as self-punishment.
The film shifts focus to the drug-addicted Hulda (Hulda Lind Kristinsdóttir ), investigated by the priest-like detective Jens (Jens Jensson) for allegedly murdering her brother. When Hulda’s mother doesn’t let her stay the night, she ends up homeless. She sees a couple of young Icelandic thugs (they’re notoriously vicious) beating on Hjörtur and runs to his defense – just to witness the vampire dismember them in the most gruesome way imaginable, phalluses flying all over the place. A sort-of-friendship soon blossoms between the two outcasts.
“…a thousand-year-old vampire, luring men into his car to chomp down on their privates.”
If this resembles a campy, bloodier Let the Right One In, you’re not too far off the mark. Where Tomas Alfredson dialed back on the gore and focused on the emotions, Steinþórsson and Úlfarsson do the opposite. As heads get torn in half, arms ripped off, guts yanked out, and a slew of male human genitalia is consumed (one is squeezed between two buns, like a hot dog), Steinþórsson and Úlfarsson provide all-too-brief glimpses of the humanity beneath the shtick.
There’s plenty of room to build characters and atmosphere here, but – apart from a neo-synth 1980’s score by the mononymous composer Berndsen – the numerous lags in momentum are filled with awkward, inconsequential dialogue exchanges and feeble attempts at humor. Hjörtur telling Hulda that he doesn’t eat processed meat, or Hulda reassuring her mother that everything will be fine while holding her guts, is about as witty as Thirst gets. The leads are fine but somewhat limited by the script.
Steinþórsson and Úlfarsson never villainize gay people, but neither do they make any remotely scathing statements of society’s treatment of the ostracized. This could have been a great allegory about prejudice. The gay vampire and the exiled drug addict could have represented the underprivileged, lonely, and suicidal. Instead, all that potential subtext is buried underneath odd editing choices, scenes that run too long, awkward dialogue exchanges, and shoddy special effects. However, Thirst is, indeed, the “most bad-a*s gay vampire zombie splatter movie you’ll ever see… ever.” Until Panos Cosmatos, Ben Wheatley, or Ari Aster come up with a better one, that is.
"…all that potential subtext is buried underneath odd editing choices..."