Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman), an attractive, driven career woman, presents her boyfriend Erik (writer-director Onur Tukel) with a ring. Quietly terrified of commitment and marriage, Erik jumps into action, playing dumb (“Oh that’s really pretty… What is that, is that Arabic?”), trying to buy time (“Here in a restaurant? Not here…”), coming up with dubious counter-arguments (“You’re doing so well at your job… And we need more women in positions of power!”), and finally pulling out his best weapon, humor (“Someone has to cook and clean… I’m also a dirty person… and because I’m dirty I shouldn’t cook either because it’s unhygienic.”). Brainy, humorless Jody goes at him full-throttle; emotionally stunted 40-year-old Erik deflects her forward thrusts with arabesques of boyish charm.
In Summer of Blood, Tukel evokes vintage Woody Allen and Albert Brooks, caricaturizing himself with all his bizarre fears and compulsions. Just as Allen and Brooks’s neuroses were products of a specific place, time, and culture, Tukel embodies an archetypal condition of contemporary urban adults — a refusal to take on any kind of responsibility in a society where nothing seems meaningful.
The price Erik pays for staying a child is losing access to love and sex, which becomes clear in the course of the film’s very dark first act. He douchebags his way through several dates, unable to stop himself from blurting out his feelings of superiority, and ineptly fucking the one woman who lets him. Here and throughout, Tukel’s dialog is brilliant: he does character-driven humor, and he has assembled an outstanding supporting cast — in particular Dakota Goldhor, as the loopy/sexy co-worker who bluntly tells Erik he’s too old for her, but turns kittenish when he talks dirty.
Early on there’s a scene in which the film shifts from heightened realism into over-the-top social satire, as Eric comes across a man who’s about to die from a bloody neck wound and casually tries to engage him in conversation. There’s a similar tonal jolt at the beginning of the second act, when Erik, despairing (in a somewhat shallow and narcissistic way) of ever finding another girlfriend, essentially lets a stranger named Gavin (Dustin Guy Defa) turn him into a vampire.
This turning point allows Erik to indulge in a fantasy life: he becomes a talented sex animal, winning over all the women that had previously rejected him with a combination of confidence, technique, and his highly erotic, bloody neck bites. He uses his hypnotic vampire gaze to convince his landlord to stop demanding rent. Tukel keeps it funny by incorporating the realities of vampiredom into his canny observations of urban bro behavior patterns, like when Erik runs into Gavin feeding on a human victim and Gavin offers him “some of this” as if it were a hit off a joint.
And yet there’s a certain letdown, both dramatically and character-wise, to the script’s sudden left turn. Erik’s predicament at the end of act one is engrossing and very relatable: it feels like Tukel is about to take you on a long and genuinely dangerous adventure, and then he just drops you off at (the Brooklyn equivalent of) Knott’s Scary Farm. There’s actually something interestingly meta about the filmmaker backing away from anything serious in the same way his character does.
It’s a missed opportunity to further explore a contemporary form of narcissism, something Tukel really has his finger on — like when Erik gets himself fired from his job by throwing a beautiful, id-driven, nihilistic tantrum. There’s an obvious parallel between a vampire’s existence and the taking-without-giving entitlement of an urban specimen like Erik: similar themes were explored, for example in the 1988 Nicholas Cage film Vampire’s Kiss. I really wanted to see the film drill down into the character, let him squirm with no easy way out.
Erik does return to a degree of emotional vulnerability when he eventually starts to yearn for a family life — now that it’s too late — but again it feels like a thing to have rather than an opportunity to give (which come to think of it echoes Jody’s attitude toward marriage and children in the opening scene). It waters down his character rather than giving him another layer. What’s more interesting is when Jody comes back into his life demanding a neck bite and he’s confronted with his ultimate fear: making a commitment for all eternity.
As a horror movie it should be said that the film’s effects are beautifully done: there really is a lot of blood in the film and it looks disturbingly realistic. Summer of Blood is ultimately a very fun movie that dips into weighty topics. It’s another great showcase for Tukel’s brilliant comedic talent, after his performances in Michael Tully’s Septien, Alex Karpovsky’s Red Flag and his own Richard’s Wedding, and it would be interesting to see him burrow even deeper into his chosen themes.