Blood thinner: indie auteur stretches himself

TBFEST2BY SEAN EGAN  |  At one point in “Summer of Blood,” Eric, the movie’s motormouthed protagonist, nonchalantly says that he’d be interested in making a film, and doing the whole “auteur” thing — writing, directing and starring. It’s a winking reference to the fact that the line is delivered by Onur Tukel, writer, director, editor and star of the indie-vampire comedy unfolding onscreen.

The joke not only reveals Eric’s misplaced confidence but also the fact that this film contains a lot of Tukel — which is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. The success of the whole thing rests entirely on the shoulders of Tukel and his comic creation, Eric — and though his admirable attempts to hold it together are frequently entertaining, it doesn’t always click the way it should.

Despite flaws, Tukel’s vampire comedy has some bite

You see, Eric is, to put it mildly, kind of an asshole. The character is prone to spouting misanthropic, jaded one-liners, vocalizing his worry about “Middle Eastern men with backpacks” and spending an inordinate amount of time in a public restroom, masturbating to pictures of a coworker. Naturally, he’s also commitment-phobic, turning down a marriage proposal and subsequently breaking up with Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman), his significantly out-of-his-league girlfriend. Eric, learning nothing, goes on with his life, talking himself into corners at work and on ill-fated dates — until, of course, he’s transformed one night by an undead, dead-eyed hipster vampire.

The film gets its biggest laughs by toying with the idea of what a man who is equal parts slacker and egotist would do when vampiric powers and urges are suddenly thrust upon him. The results include using mind control in humorously mundane ways, using his newfound powers to enhance his sex life and bungling his way through a few awkward feeding sessions.

Funny as this all is, it becomes a tad exhausting, largely because of Eric’s pervasive abrasiveness. While your mileage may vary when it comes to Tukel’s shtick, his total commitment to the part is impressive, even if you do wish that he’d just be quiet for a minute. All throughout, he remains just charismatic enough to make Eric’s behavior far more palatable than it has any right to be. It also should be noted that he can be very, very funny, producing unexpected belly laughs with his non-sequiturs and left field zingers. He’s at his best when he has another skilled actor to bounce off, such as during hysterical scenes with a delightfully deadpan coworker played by Alex Karpovsky. But when he’s allowed to run his mouth unchecked, things become far more uneven comedy-wise and the character becomes an overbearing presence that threatens to suffocate the film.

Photo by Jason Banker Endless summer: writer, director, editor and star Onur Tukel lives forever — on celluloid — as a new member of Bushwick’s undead club.
Photo by Jason Banker
Endless summer: writer, director, editor and star Onur Tukel lives forever — on celluloid — as a new member of Bushwick’s undead club.

The episodic nature of the plot helps move things along at a brisk pace, and it’s clear that Tukel is a gifted comedic writer, consistently coming up with wonky situations and dialogue that amuse. Unfortunately, his direction is less polished and the cinematography is kind of bland (and at its worst, muddy and blurry). The film has an endearing, homemade quality however, and the location shooting in Bushwick gives it a cool vibe. It’s unfortunate that for every good thing Tukel and company bring to the table, there’s something else that undermines it. So while a mixed bag, Tukel has managed to create a distinctive film that has some bite to it.