The Movie Waffler Screamfest LA 2023 Review - EMPIRE V | The Movie Waffler

Screamfest LA 2023 Review - EMPIRE V

Empire V review
A young man discovers society is controlled by a secret cabal of vampires.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Victor Ginzburg

Starring: Miron Fedorov, Pavel Tabakov, Taya Radchenko

Empire V poster

Of all the available monsters in the horror canon, vampires must be the biggest and most annoying pricks of all. Literally parasitical creatures who subside on the lives of those weaker than them, the accepted glib association of sensuality, glamour and luxury with the dead and loving it is an act of vamp marketing genius: Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Twilight selling us this idea of the brooding, lux outsider, a sexy and dangerous bad boy of wealth and taste. Spare me. Also tedious is the vampire as eternal, ever flexible metaphor for whatever cultural malaise it can be clumsily analogised with, viz. the plague, abstinence, addictionzzzz. Enter Victor Ginzburg's (working from a novel by Victor Pelevin) Empire V, Darren Shan via Tolstoy SparkNotes, where disillusioned teen Roman (Pavel Tabakov) becomes a vampire and mopes about wondering as to the meaning of it all: his supernatural condition, existence itself and - analogy alert - the power hierarchies which govern Russia.

Empire V review

A genre twist here is that vampirism comes from a parasitical worm which lives in the host, and that the "red stuff" which the infected drink is contingent upon money, "the frequency of life’." Meanwhile, the vampire administration is a shady authority who secretly run the world (I know, I know...).

The film follows Roman as he is indoctrinated into the brethren (apparently the worm "chose" him), and we see him develop his vamp potential while philosophising with elders of varying mentor stereotypes. Imagine The Matrix's training sequences because the makers of Empire V certainly have. The film is like that but extended over nigh on two hours and not as good (the film most reminded me of fellow Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov's post-Matrix action films: Night/Day Watches and Wanted, but again not as good). The process of Roman's transition from loser teen to powerful creature of the night is drearily uncomplicated. In fact, he's not even a creature of the night as he is able to freely wander around in the daytime - he's just a superpowered kid. Ominously, the iconography of actualisation seems to be borrowed from toxic male influencer culture, the sort of empty and limited imagery which dangerous charlatans peddle to their simpleton followers via social media: fast cars, big houses and women as decoration. All Roman is missing is the big stupid chomping cigar.

Empire V review

In a stab at originality, in Empire V the drinking of blood is not necessarily sustenance but a way of imbibing the host's thoughts, emotions and abilities. Consequently, the cabal have blood vials taken from folk luminaries ranging from Oscar Wilde to XxxTentacion (honestly). In an early sequence, Roman swallows a drop of Steve McQueen's blood which enables him to drive a car at high speed in a CGI chase - yet none of this is portrayed as camp as it sounds. Using his vamp-skills, Roman manages to nip a fit girl in the park, and, due to his understanding of her hopes and dreams, his access to her memories, he coerces her into bed. So, Roman, positioned as the wide-eyed hero of the film, is a pseudo-rapist. In a similar vein, as part of his teaching, he is taken to the sort of club for rich nobs where hugely talented sex workers contort and cavort in various bondage scenarios for spiritless onlookers. This sort of scene is typical of Empire V's narrative approach: when Roman isn't theorising with older vampires, the film just "shows" us stuff - car chases, naked women kissing, cgi vistas - with all the airless lack of drama of a video game cut scene.

Empire V review

Turns out that in its home country, Empire V is banned by the Kremlin for its "biting social satire." Love Russian culture (especially the rich folklore featuring numerous vampire legends, including the "Upyr" who has teeth of iron-!), not a big fan of the Russian administration and the various miseries enacted upon their people and the global context. In this instance of state censorship, however, by restricting the viewing of Empire V, it may have done its countrymen a favour.

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