Despite a title which could suggest anything from a big screen version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to a film adaptation of Kafka’s most famous short story, a snarling Christopher Lambert on the cover of Metamorphosis leaves us in no doubt that we have a vampire movie on our hands. However, if the Twilight books and movies have taught us anything, it’s that vampires are an unpredictable lot and it’s always touch and go whether any unsuspecting mortal who strays into their territory will end up as lunch or love interest. This uncertainty is at the heart of Metamorphosis’s own identity crisis.
Metamorphosis is a 2007 offering from the Hungarian born Jenö Hodi, who directed, produced and co-wrote the movie as well as having a bit-part credit as the “crater-faced man”. It tells the story of Keith, a young American writer who travels to Hungary to research the legend of seventeenth-century Hungarian noblewoman and reputed serial killer, Elizabeth Báthory. Along for the ride are Keith’s irritating friend, JJ, and JJ’s irritating girlfriend, Kim. Wandering in a graveyard (why not?), the three friends meet an enigmatic and beautiful woman who introduces herself as Elizabeth and accompanies them as they travel to the Báthory castle. She and Keith discuss his research and, notwithstanding some hard-to-miss hints that Elizabeth is a vampire, they fall in love. Then Elizabeth disappears and, as misfortune and danger close in around the friends, they begin to suspect that Elizabeth is the cause.
All of which sounds rather fun—and it is: Metamorphosis delivers an imaginative and watchable story which makes good use of its rural Hungarian locations. Unfortunately, there is something lacking. This is because, like a vampire who can’t decide whether to be sexy or terrifying, Metamorphosis never wholeheartedly commits itself to being either a supernatural romance or a horror movie, but wavers uncertainly between the two. The plodding pace and low gore-quotient are likely to have horror fans checking their watches long before half time. This is particularly true for those who are familiar with the gruesome Báthory legend, which is brushed aside for much of the movie. Meanwhile romance fans will find the rushed love story and the lack of any believable emotional connection between Elizabeth and Keith reduces their enjoyment of the movie.
The movie takes itself a little too seriously at times and includes a few curious moments which may be intended to hint at the nature of the world they have entered or to create a sense of unease or wonder in the viewer. However, their main effect is to puzzle and they almost appear to be mistakes. In one scene, for example, a character smashes a chair and places the wood on the fire, then returns to sit in the same chair, which is now whole. Although the incidental music suggests this is significant, none of the characters seem to notice anything amiss and the incident remains unexplained.
Christopher Lambert’s performance in Metamorphosis has been criticised as hammy, but as the antagonist he brings some much-needed humour and energy to the second half of the movie. Had his character, a newly-created vampire out for revenge, been granted more screen time in the first half of the movie, there would have been a greater sense of danger hanging over the protagonists throughout and Metamorphosis would have been a more balanced and more enjoyable movie.
Metamorphosis is out on Network DVD on Monday the 3rd of October.
Check out the trailer below.