the very best efforts of Royal Mail, I have finally received a copy of Left Films’ Ninjas vs. Vampires to review. Having already experienced the studio’s own Cowboys & Zombies, I rather short-sightedly thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong.
When his advances are thwarted by long-standing best friend Alex (Devon Marie Burt), Aaron (Jay Saunders) could be forgiven for believing that life had finally hit rock bottom; after years of treading carefully, he had apparently blown his chances with the girl of his dreams. Things go from bad to worse, however, when he and Alex are set upon by a pack of blood-thirsty vampires. Luckily, there are a battalion of ninjas on hand to save the bickering couple, using friendly witch Ann (Melissa McConnell) to transport them to safety. Aware that they have glimpsed only the tip of an iceberg, the ninjas induct Aaron so that they might be better prepared when the vampires next attack.
If there was one thing missing from Cowboys & Zombies, aside from coherence and recognisable human behaviour, it was humour. For a film so lacking in both spectacle and drama, it was almost certainly a mistake to treat the subject matter with such incongruous and po-faced solemnity. Ninjas vs. Vampires is more self-aware, clearly mindful of its own high-concept ridiculousness, as it both name-checks its many influences and imbues its running-time with genuine wit and pastiche. Let’s just say, Twilight doesn’t get off lightly – and the film is all the better for it.
Perhaps Ninja vs. Vampires’ most evident point of reference is Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not only does the script specifically reference the hit television show on a number of occasions, it also perpetuate’s Whedon’s appreciation for pop-culture and proclivity for quirky dialogue. While the result might not be anywhere near as effortless or effective as it proved in Buffy, it does add another dimension to the film and – for the most part – ensures that you are laughing along with the characters rather than at them. Slightly less flattering, however, are the similarities it shares with another long-running television series: there is no denying that at times Ninjas vs. Vampires smacks uncomfortably of a 15 rated Power Rangers movie.
Largely affable and occasionally competent performances also help to inject a sense of gross-out fun into proceedings, conspiring with passable effects to create a surprisingly palatable whole. Writer-director Justine Timpane knows how to make a movie, and while the often laughable costuming (seriously, some of the vampires have to be seen to be believed) and haphazard editing inevitable leave their mark, the story itself is relatively engaging, giving what could have felt like a self-indulgent pet-project some semblance of credible appeal. Eager to make the most of his budget and not afraid to kill the odd character (usually for the best), a series of genuine surprises and creative juxtapositions succeed in breathing life into what might otherwise have felt excruciatingly staid and shudderingly derivative.
Trite, inconsistent and with an opening act that nearly sinks everything, Ninjas vs. Vampires is far from must-see entertainment. Nevertheless, with a welcome sense of its own stupidity and a genuine creative streak, it is a film that is more rewarding than you might expect. It’s a step up from Cowboys & Zombies; and that, at least, is something.