Alternate Earth stories have been around in literary form forever, and comic books have similarly taken advantage of the vast creative space offered by the endless possibilities inherent in building a completely new world, while still grounding its foundation in the familiar. In the ’90s, DC comics had a successful run with their alternate Earth stories via the Elseworlds Imprint, and more recently, Marvel Comics have dabbled in their Ultimates universe. Likewise, cinema has taken advantage of the possibilities, with the most celebrated example being Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”, which has been endlessly copied in style and form for the last two decades. “Perfect Creature” is an alternate Earth story where vampires exist, but these aren’t your father’s vampires.
In a brief prologue, we are informed that vampires (or nosferatu, as they’re called in the movie) came to be as a result of genetic experimentation 300 years ago, the accidental product of a search for cures to an endless series of plagues and influenzas that have ravaged the human population. As the next evolution of mankind, the nosferatu have become the saviors of humans, and are now known as the Brotherhood, the movie’s version of the Church. They wear black clothes and are treated as man of the cloth, and their sole existence seems to be to supply humanity with an endless supply of new cures for every new influenza plague that arises, something that seems to happen quite often in this alternate Earth.
When a member of the Brotherhood (who happens to be all male) develops a taste for human blood and breaks rank, it’s up to Brother Silus (Dougray Scott, “Mission Impossible II”), who teams up with a human police Captain played by Saffron Burrows (“Deep Blue Sea”) to stop him before he damages the fragile existence between humans and the Brotherhood. In the 300 years of their existence, a Brother has never taken a human life, and in fact humans voluntarily go to the Church and, instead of praying to God, gives blood freely to the Brothers. Besides the thirst for blood and that whole sharp teeth thing, the Brothers also have augmented abilities; but they aren’t afraid of sunlight, crosses, or garlic. Basically, they’re Blade from the “Blade” movies, minus the bad attitude, cool shades, swords, and Wesley Snipes.
Written and directed by Glenn Standring, “Perfect Creature” starts off slowly, as it must. The film has created such a deep mythology for itself that it now has to present the background to catch up the audience. The search for Edgar (Leo Gregory, “Tristan and Isolde”), the rogue Brother, actually only takes up 30 minutes of the film, after which he is arrested and, well, escapes again. As expected, Brotherhood conspiracies come to the fore, including cover-ups of cover-ups, and the shocking reveal that no new Brother has been conceived for the past 70 years, and it was a cure to this that Edgar was working on when he accidentally developed his bloodlust.
In a genre populated by too many similar looking films, “Perfect Creature” manages to stand out with its stark, and at times gritty, production design. Not an easy task, as many filmmakers who dabble in this premise invariably ends up ripping off Gilliam’s “Brazil” in look, style, and worst, pretensions. (The alternate Earth film, “The Breed”, which also proffered a similar human cop-vampire cop storyline, comes to mind.) The world of “Creature” is a combination of London’s Victorian Age mish mashed with early 20th century America, with towering industrial machines battling for space among ancient tenement buildings and dirty city streets. The technology is similarly creative, familiar and yet slightly altered. Zeppelins dot the film’s skyline with their omnipresent presence, and bowler hats are the order of the day. In many ways, the idea seems to be London at its wettest and muggiest.
Shot with New Zealand money, “Perfect Creature” stars Scotland’s Dougray Scott as the stoic, but compassionate Brother Silus, and Englishwoman Saffron Burrows as Lilly, the human police captain. We don’t really know very much about Silus, but within the confines of the storyline, and taking into account the secrecy of the Brotherhood, what we have on him seems strangely appropriate. Lilly’s life is more of an open book, which makes her growing relationship with Silus convincing. Of course it helps that the two actors are quite good, especially Burrows, whose character wears her emotions on her sleeves, and makes for a heartfelt and affecting heroine. Not an easy thing to accomplish in a movie about people who can throw each other around with superhuman strength.
There is a lot of action in “Perfect Creature”, much of it taking advantage of the superhuman abilities that the Brothers possess. When Edgar slaughters the guards of a Brotherhood prison while making his escape, it’s as bloody and brutal as it should be. While the Brothers don’t fly, they can leap, see, hear, and feel from a great distance. Writer/director Glenn Standring (“The Irrefutable Truth About Demons”) has a great handle on the action, utilizing a combination of slick CGI, dizzying camerawork, and a physical toy in Leo Gregory, whose Edgar gets to demonstrate the full potential of having superhuman abilities.
It wouldn’t really be correct to say that Standring’s movie is a new take on an old tale (i.e. vampires), as the story seems to simply use the twist on the vampire as a jumping point for something more. Mind you, not that “Creature” is anything deep or meaningful, as it doesn’t really come across as all that intellectual. Still, the notion of vampires as making up the Church and living to serve humans, but secretly and simply hoping to preserve their own species is rather intriguing. Couple that with Standring’s script and the moody production design, and “Perfect Creature” comes highly recommended for genre fans looking to sink their teeth into something new, and at the same time, familiar.
Before the credits roll, “Perfect Creature” seems to be hinting at a possible sequel. To which I must reply, “Let’s.”
Glenn Standring (director) / Glenn Standring (screenplay)
CAST: Dougray Scott … Silus
Saffron Burrows … Lilly
Leo Gregory … Edgar
Scott Wills … Jones
Stuart Wilson … Augustus
Craig Hall … Dominic