Some online dating sites are more thorough than others. While some boast of attaining a jaw-dropping 39 levels of romantic compatibility, others are slightly less stringent about weeding out the pervs, creeps, losers, users....oh, and the throat-gouging vampires. Such is the case at www.dateordie.net, which brings together the two central protagonists of Dead & Lonely - a five part web series debuting today at IFC.com.
Meet Justin (played by Justin Rice), a schleppy and sensitive everynerd. His hobbies include being unceremoniously dumped by his live-in girlfriend, joining dubiously-named matchmaking websites, and kvetching to his buddy about the mysteries of modern dating. Seeking to traverse the cold and gaping chasm of bandwidth between them is Lee (Paige Stark), a fanged femme with one thing on her mind. Ah, but is she hankering for a honey, or some hemoglobin? There's the rub. If Robert Pattinson has taught us anything, it's that even bloodsuckers can yearn for long walks on the beach and meaningful conversations about record collections.
Offsetting the mortal peril that would otherwise seem inevitable in a vampire-human hook-up is Lee's complete lack of confidence. She doesn't swagger, chortle, toss off glib one-liners about playing with her food, or fill her closet with threads from Hot Topic. Indeed, Lee's guileless manner lends heaps of credence to the possibility that she could be seeking a more meaningful connection beyond the obvious one, and actress Paige Stark ably presents us with a girl whose social awkwardness is every bit as cringe-worthy as her sharp incisors.
Justin Rice also turns in a solid performance and infuses his character with a skittish but likeable Woody Allen-esque neuroticism. Following Lee's over-eager arrangement of their first date, Justin convinces himself that he has "accidentally" hired a prostitute. Where plenty of other dudes might be high-fiving their friends over the good fortune of finding a gal who is this rarin' to go, Justin can only smack himself on the forehead and assume he screwed up somehow.
Despite the occasional flashes of dark comedy as described above, Dead & Lonely is mostly a suspenseful character study that manages to deliver a sort of deliberate old-school build toward the big bang (or big fang) finish. Yet this series still packs plenty of punch in each installment and ratchets up the suspense with great pacing. Those who prefer vampire yarns with a wide splatter radius, however, might find themselves disappointed by the lack of gore.
Dead & Lonely was written, directed and produced by Ti West, whose body of work regularly invites descriptions of smart arthouse horror. (Yes, Virginia - boobs, blood and allegory can peacefully co-exist.) West's for-hire sequel to Cabin Fever 2 isn't due out until next year, but his upcoming theatrical feature The House of the Devil, opening in limited release this Friday, has fared well with critics on the film festival circuit. [Ed. note: he also blogs here at FEARnet.]
Most would agree that first dates are often torture even without the threat of exsanguination being thrown into the mix. Dead & Lonely not only plays on this sentiment, but artfully raise the stakes (so to speak). It's a fast-paced, finely acted and altogether fantastic tale of boy meets ghoul that is well worth the viewing.