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review written 6/3/2008

My familiarity with the BloodRayne video game franchise is pretty much nil, except that apparently people paid to see the movie of it made by Uwe Boll and were indignantly surprised that it stunk to high heaven. Nevertheless I accepted the opportunity to look at the amusingly simply titled BloodRayne: A Fan Film, as a chance for a sort of digital tourism in the land of someone who felt he could do better.

The film starts off promisingly, with a good little chase to grab our attention; the sound design is effective, as is the just-shaky-enough camerawork. A full minute passes before we are forced to contend with plots or exposition, and when they come, it's a bit much to deal with, and I confess I don't remember what is actually going on, but never mind, at least the text effect was nifty.

Writer/star Vera VanGuard's name implies she was born to play a video game character at some point in her life. I'm not sure what to think of the character, who (in VanGuard's portrayal at least) carries out the important mission we were told dominated her life with the detached, jokey non-gravitas of a trip to the mall, leading us to wonder why we should care if she doesn't—and if the performance is meant to be a mask for deep inner pain, I couldn't see that far.

It's clear we have a bit of a geek goddess in the making in VanGuard, who I'm sure has broken a few hearts at conventions across this fine nation, and who has appeared in a film with the glorious title of Vampire Lesbian Kickboxers, which seemed worthy of comment for no particular reason.

She exists in sparse settings that, like a video game world, exist purely as signposts, to sell the essence of the variations on a modular environment: a brick wall and a poster representing a brick wall and a poster, a red brick wall and a Nazi flag representing a Nazi hangout. The effect works, I think. In fact, some care has been taken to replicate a gaming environment. I liked the font for the subtitles, and the right-out-of-a-video-game visual effects for the fights. Our hero's jokes and comments populate the soundtrack of these fights almost as non sequiturs, like movie quotes laid down as samples in a dance track; one gets the sense she has twenty random things she can say and a computer is picking the lines for her.

The result is a strange exercise: a film setting out to replicate video game aspects with some faith, but without any level of engagement to it. Director Edward G. Negron effectively stages these scenes with real flair. But the funny little bits in the credits (and afterwards) serve to illustrate material that the filmmakers and cast are more comfortable with; freed from the responsibility of creating drama or selling the character beyond the actor's personality, the film only comes alive when it's over. It fails the Gene Siskel test; the filmmakers show us that their film is less interesting than a documentary of the same actors eating lunch.

Nevertheless, I can't help but give the film a decent rating, on the grounds that it shows serious directing chops on one level if slack on others. There was serious vision employed here, and if it was myopic vision, so be it.