Vampire Clay


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Vampire Clay
"This is an enjoyable creature-feature, a special-effects showcase on a small budget."

Opening with a set of admission figures for art schools is not Vampire Clay's boldest move, nor its most odd - though the font is clear enough there's something charming about using application/admission figures to sit up in big digits to suggest that it's competitive, dramatically so. It doesn't stoop to percentages, to providing totals of those who are unsuccesful. It seems very much the 'before' in a tutorial on, say, pivot tables.

Which is what, shortly after it gets started, Vampire Clay does - not, I should say, pivot tables - but extract elements from its initial conditions and combine them to sometimes startling but not always useful intent. What it might sometimes lack in polish it more than makes up for with invention - and in variety it excels.

A small cast in a rural art prep school, a mysterious buried box, earthquakes, a creeping sense of quasi-Cronenbergian 'not quite body'-horror and a matching quasi-Cronenbergian 'not quite synth'-score, but also some specific flavour of Japanese industrial. Your reviewer knows enough to know that it's almost certainly some hyper-specific genre and also enough to know not to try to pin it down. What's important is that it's an incredible contrast with the slow passage of water over the titular clay, at that point dust rescued from a buried box. No black dogs here, no drifting hulk, no mist - nor even a Keanu Reeves or a Gary Oldman. This is a Thing, if you will, unearthed, and the scholars and tutor at this educational establishment are far from ready (MacReady?) for it. Though someone is - fans of things that throw flames may not be disappointed.

As the vampire clay grows in power its suite of mischiefs grow larger - slithering tendrils are just part of it, but they do lead to an absurd game of whack-a-mole. When seen at the 2018 Glasgow Film Festival there were both gasps and laughs from the audience, in a film whose tonal shifts seem astonishingly numerous given its 80-minute length. This is a debut feature for writer/director Sôichi Umezawa, whose CV as a make-up effects artist/designer runs to scores of films. A segment of ABCs Of Death 2 was his (Y Is For Youth), and this perhaps shows as much variation. The makeup effects are good, managing a degree of realism even when folk are getting done in by bento boxes or geometry sets. The performances are good too, even when lamp-shading some of the more comic elements of the script. There are other sections that are much more striking - in what isn't yet aftermath a decision is made that's much more profound than one might expect from a film where a toxic waste factory and a classroom pet both play important roles.

This is an enjoyable creature-feature, a special-effects showcase on a small budget, and its setting in not-quite-rural outskirts of Tokyo is perhaps a novelty. That competition to get places in art schools is tight might not be news, but how Vampire Clay uses that struggle is. The variety in Vampire Clay is perhaps its undoing - fewer ideas, more closely executed, might have produced something more consistently chilling, or seemingly deliberately funny, or potentially better paced. It has a few fits and starts, perhaps a few too many moving parts, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. When it does slip it does manage to gather itself together, and some of the shocks it shares with Prometheus it does at least as well with on a fraction of the budget.

Enjoyed by audiences at Glasgow, most of whom had battled the Beast from the East to be there, it won't be to all tastes, but the plasticity of its monster is reflected in its plasticity as a film. There's likely something for you there, if you're already the type who'd consider seeing a Japanese horror film. Though it should be said that as a debut feature, however well shaped, and however long it has been brewing for its creator, Vampire Clay may not find itself as your cup of tea.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2018
Share this with others on...
Vampire Clay packshot
A group of art students seem to fall under the influence of demonic clay.

Director: Sôichi Umezawa

Writer: Sôichi Umezawa

Starring: Asuka Kurosawa, Kyoka Takeda, Ena Fujita

Year: 2017

Runtime: 80 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Battle Royale