Doug Bradley stars in this stylish and gory vampire fantasy as an unscrupulous antiques dealer forced to defend his family against the supernatural forces he unwittingly unleashes. One hell of a night lies ahead as terror emerges from the darkness in the form of Lilith (Natalia Celino) - beautiful and seductive, she is the mother of all vampires... the 'First Vampire'. Hot on Lilith's heels is Phelan (Jonnie Hurn), an Irish cowboy-turned-vampire, hell-bent on revenge after his century-long grudge against her. Wayward teenager Rachel faces a brutal 6 lesson as she falls under the spell of charismatic Phelan, and is trapped at the centre of the escalating conflict between the undead. "Umbrage" is a dark fairytale, mixing mythology, horror and western styles, to create a unique and intriguing film like no other.
- Umbrage: The First Vampire review by NP
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You rated this film: 3
The most common word I have seen in reviews of this film is ‘ambitious’, and I think that is pretty fair. There’s nothing wrong with aiming high when directing a film, and there are moments where ‘Umbrage’ really appears to be hitting its stride – only to be knocked back by incomprehensible dialogue, occasional bad acting or the meandering storyline.
The first half concentrates on Doug Bradley’s Jacob (who has recently acquired a black mirror, which appears to be letting in ‘shadows’), who is either fending off barbs from his heavily pregnant wife (never a good omen in a horror film), or his constantly moody ward, Rachel. When two visitors arrive, things get a great deal worse.
The second half delves into the back story of the character Phelan and his age-old battle with the unspecified demon Lilith. Phelan (Johnny Hurn) is an Irish cowboy vampire, and Lilith looks wonderfully evil and sultry, only stumbling when Natalia Celino’s limitations as an actress are exposed whenever she has dialogue. A wholly unnecessary flashback rape scene reveals some of the reasons for their rivalry, and it appears Jacob and his vastly diminishing group have simply been caught in the crossfire.
It occurs to me that during filming, a sudden flurry of snowfall must have hampered proceedings. Rachel is hiding behind a car. When she emerges, snow has covered the ground. Rather than try to hide this, writer/director Drew Cullingham bridges the moments with hugely atmospheric panoramas of the falling snow (which adds further visual interest in a very picturesque backdrop). I assume this to be the case – there is no other reason for this to happen. Then, there is no reason for Lauren to be pregnant, other than to provide a gory death scene (reason enough perhaps) – or indeed for the most of the cast to die.
SPOILERS – after a series of apparent endings, we finally reach the finale: Jacob is blinded and then bitten by Rachel, who has been turned into a vampire by Phelan, reminding us that Lilith may be evil incarnate, but her rival is just as depraved.
The idea of a vampire cowboy is not as unusual as it sounds. Before horror films existed, silent Western films were occasionally spiced up with ghostly happenings. The idea of a vengeful cowboy vampire and a demonic seductress battling each other across (presumably) the centuries is very appealing, it’s just a shame that the results should be this uneven.