In this era of Twilight, it makes perfect sense to make a vampire movie. That series has raised this subgenre of horror to a new commercial peak. That said, making a straightforward vampire opus isn’t enough. It has to be combined with a new kind of setting or another genre to take flight (after all, what is the Twilight series but a string of gothic romances with a little vampire window-dressing?).
Dead Cert is a recent film that throws its hat into the modern-vampire-flick ring by planting its elements in a distinctly streetwise English milieu and combining it with a Guy Ritchie-styled British gangster plot. Freddy “Dead Cert” Frankham (Craig Fairbrass) is a reformed crook who is opening up a gentleman’s club to complete the process of becoming respectable. However, trouble rears its head on opening night when his brother-in-law Eddie (Dexter Fletcher) brings Dante Livenko (Billy Murray), a Romanian crime boss, to check the place out. Livenko likes what he sees and wants to buy the place.
Freddy resists but Eddie talks him into following up on Livenko’s suggestion of a wager for the club based on a boxing match between one of his men and a fighter of Freddy’s choice. Freddy sends in Dennis (Danny Midwinter), his other brother-in-law and a reliable bare-knuckle fighter. Unfortunately, Livenko’s fighter beats Dennis so badly he dies – and Livenko wins the club. It’s not long before Freddy is gathering his mates together to take back their club from this sneaky operator – and once the showdown begins, they realize Livenko and his crew are vampires.
The end result isn’t hard to watch as it unspools before you: director Steven Lawson maintains a solid pace, the production values are good, the cast gives quality performances and James Friend’s cinematography gives it all a nice gloss. Unfortunately, Dead Cert fails to satisfy for a few important reasons.
The first is that it is utterly derivative: the Brit gangster affectations come from Guy Ritchie’s work, the idea of gangsters fighting vampires comes from Innocent Blood, the scenes with vampire strippers are lifted from Vamp and the film’s structure – half of a non-vampire flick that gives way to a vampire-dominated second half – is clearly modeled on From Dusk Till Dawn. There’s nothing wrong with borrowing ideas but you have to do something interesting or unusual with them. Lawson and screenwriter Ben Shillito are content to merely trot out these familiar elements and put them through the expected paces.
It doesn’t help that logic problems easily come into view if you think about the plotting for a moment. For example, Freddy is presented as a streetwise ex-gangster but he allows himself to be easily manipulated into a foolish wager that is obviously a setup. The film also presents our heroes rushing into the villain’s lair without doing any sort of reconnaissance or planning – and they also leave their significant others alone when they take off. It’s hard to sympathize with a film’s heroes when they spend much of the film acting like dimwitted rubes.
A similar lack of inspiration extends to the filmmaking. Lawson achieves a look that is stylish in a music video sort of way but he doesn’t bring much gusto to the film’s vampire action. The action and suspense sequences that dominate the last half-hour of the film are staged in a perfunctory, oddly impersonal way that rushes through the action without weaving it into setpiece form. The results are suitably bloody and thankfully free of CGI tomfoolery but they don’t really excite or shock – instead, they feel like another required element that is being checked of a checklist. When Lawson does go for a stylistic flourish – like the bare knuckle fight that opens the film – it seems to come directly from the Guy Ritchie playbook.
That said, Dead Cert does have one ace up its sleeve: the acting. Everyone here turns in strong work: Fairbrass is a likeable low-key hero, Murray is a suitably oily vampire villain and the actors filling the various thug roles do their work effectively without going over the top. There is also some fun work from Steven Berkoff, who gets the showiest character in the film’s “Peter Cushing role” as an advisor on vampire lore. He’s hammy but in a good way, as that is what the character is designed for. Jason Flemyng also pops up here but don’t let his billing deceive you: he has a two-scene cameo and disappears quickly.
To sum up, Dead Cert is a weak entry into the new-wave vampire sweepstakes. It’s not difficult to sit through – but it’s also too derivative and uninspired to inspire anything else but a shrug from genre enthusiasts.