Randy Russell is an actor and screenwriter. A purist, he will only work on actual film — American Job, The Pool, Soulmate, Modus Operandi, and the upcoming China Test Girls — so it all might end soon. His website is at rspeen.com.
Before I get to the dark and disturbing heart of the matter, I want to make it clear that Summer of Blood is a fun movie. It’s entertaining, it’s romantic and sweet, but most of all, it’s very, very funny. The main character, Erik, is played by writer-director Onur Tukel, and I am guessing that he is playing a character with a similar sense of humor to himself, kind of in the vein of Woody Allen’s neurotic protagonists, or Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, bordering on offensive and inappropriate. It’s fun to watch Erik stumble through life doing and saying the wrong things, though it’s often what we wish we could say and do if we weren’t afraid of the consequences.
Now that that’s out of the way, I want to talk about what this movie is really about. On the surface, it’s the story of a man trying to win back the affections of a lover, but beneath that is a bottomless chasm, the terrifying soul of this movie, which is an examination of fear. I don’t want to sound like it’s all gloom and sadness, though it is terribly frightening at times. After all, at the heart of comedy is fear, and there’s a lot of that to work with here. Ultimately we are witness to the way Erik deals with fear — and even transcends it.
It jumps right in with Erik at dinner with his girlfriend, Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman), freaked out about the bread hiding under his salad. He is also terrified of health hazards from farm-raised salmon, and cancer in general, including brain cancer—which is why he says he doesn’t use a cell phone (this film’s clever solution to the “cell phone problem” — allowing the main character to proceed through the story in a manner consistent with characters before the ubiquity of cell phone use). During the same dinner, Jody proposes to Erik, causing him to retreat so gracelessly he all but destroys the relationship. (The relationship actually ends just after dinner.) Besides the minor fears here — of a public proposal, and the embarrassing surprise — one might call Erik’s reaction a “fear of commitment,” but I see this as something deeper. It is terror brought on by (along with the return to “traditional values”) the custom of marriage: public vows of love, women taking men’s last names, white tuxes and limos, and dismal wedding reception entertainment.
At his job, Erik is on the verge of getting fired, though he doesn’t really seem to care. The real dread here is the nightmare of the sheer soul-eliminating boredom of the average office workplace: carrels, meetings, spreadsheets, middle management. Two of the scariest words in the English language: Excel and PowerPoint. Erik flirts with a co-worker, Penelope (Dakota Goldhor), one of those people whose manner of saying “no” is so obviously sexually charged you can hardly blame Erik when he steals a picture of her to masturbate to in the toilet, although this act is as much about escape as desire.
Next on the agenda is maybe the worst horror of all: Internet dating. Erik doesn’t seem to be doing too badly at first, since he’s funny and talkative, but he ends up insulting each of the three women he takes out on a date. He keeps trying, though, and adjusting his persona according to what went wrong on the previous date. He manages to get one of the women into bed, and the disastrous sex scene that follows is one of the most hilarious I’ve seen in movies, and plays out another chapter in the catalogue of fear. “Stay for a little bit longer,” he pleads, while trying to cuddle after failing to satisfy her. “I can stay for maybe 10 more minutes,” she says.
Just when things couldn’t get worse, Erik comes upon an unreadable stranger in the street who is oddly threatening: is this guy going to mug him, or maybe come on to him? They are almost immediately talking intimately, a spell having fallen over Erik. The guy is wearing those creepy zombie contact lenses; maybe he’s on his way to a rave, or maybe it’s that organ-theft thing. Suddenly, the guy bites him on the neck, there’s a lot of blood, and I guess the movie would be over, except it’s a movie and we’re about at the end of the first act.
A change comes over Erik — he seems to turn into someone who just doesn’t give a fuck. He quits his job and walks through the busy streets unselfconsciously in a blood-soaked shirt. Could this be the solution to all of his problems, or at least a way to deal with fear? The thing is, he can no longer tolerate street food, or any food for that matter. He will only be satisfied by blood.
Erik worries that he is even more selfish now than he was before, since his basic needs so directly impinge on the happiness of others. If there are others like him, can the blood supply of the city — and the world — sustain them? He is having something of a mid-life crisis. Even though he has newfound confidence and power, what he really wants is a normal life, with Jody, maybe a family, and to grow old and die.
Will he be like this for eternity, or is there a way out? Rather than ruin it for you, I won’t go any further than to say I loved the ending of the movie. I saw it coming, and yet I didn’t. And as far as these people who drink blood to survive are concerned, I guess they really are out there, among us. Nothing surprises me anymore, and I believe in everything.