As the pubs reopen, we turn to the South Korean story of a Catholic priest (Parasite‘s Song Kang-ho) who contracts a vampiric disease and starts drinking as though the blood banks have opened after three months. Spoiler alert for the government: it doesn’t end well. Lots of coffin’.
A few months after Let the Right One In and Twilight, the mighty Park Chan-wook injects some much-needed transgression into the vampire genre, bringing his elegant-yet-deranged style (and a pair of pliers) to this batshit tale of sex, violence and suicide. Loosely based on Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, 2009’s Thirst plays out like a freaky family drama with vampires, and has the dubious honour of being the first mainstream Korean movie to feature full-frontal male nudity.
The Cronenbergian approach treats vampirism as a disease that places the priest at the intersection of salvation and corruption, though the film avoids getting swamped in philosophy thanks to Chan-wook’s black comic tone. He flits between dark supernatural comedy, squirmy vampire sex and bloody body horror (often in the same scene), all delivered at a breakneck clip with floating camerawork, beautiful photography and glugging sound effects not heard in a vampire movie since audiences sat through Twilight.
Gorehounds will be sated by Thirst‘s indelible gags including a fishhook catching someone’s ear, a man playing the recorder while coughing up blood that spills out of the instrument’s holes, and the film’s best joke, drinking from a heart that’s been punctured by a corkscrew. Kang-ho is fantastic as the self-flagellating priest who loses his moral compass faster than we lose our lunch, superbly supported by Kim Hae-sook (The Handmaiden), Shin Ha-kyun (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance) and a spellbinding turn from Kim Ok-vin as the woman who falls for the most twisted pastor since fusilli.
At two hours and change, there are a couple of scenes that should have been severed, but the mesmerising ending more than makes up for it. Bombastic and beautiful, bleak but fun, this soulless cabal of ministers is the perfect distraction from our one.