Festivals

{Fantasia 2021} All the Moons – First Look Review

A delicate, captivating vampire story, All the Moons is a slice-of-eternal-life drama packing an introspective punch.

Playing at Fantasia, this Basque drama from director and co-writer Igor Legarreta sucks viewers in with a terrific central performance. Young actress Haizea Carneros is otherworldly as the protagonist orphan whose life changes forever in the wake of tragic events.

The film’s opening sequence informs the audience the action takes place in the middle of Spain’s Third Carlist War. A bombing raid flattens the orphanage where the protagonist lives, leaving the girl gravely injured. On the brink of death, she is rescued by a mysterious woman who promises to take care of her.

This woman (Itziar Ituño, seen in Money Heist) is a vampire, roaming the earth for decades and grappling with her unfulfilled maternal instinct. She turns the girl with a kiss. This selfish act saves her life, but also condemns her to eternity, something the protagonist has never asked for.

The two reenact a mother-daughter relationship, as the woman promises the girl they would see many moons together. Unfortunately, her best intentions aren’t enough to keep that promise. The two women fall victims of a vicious attack from local soldiers, parting ways. From that moment, the vampire girl needs to flee and go on a self-discovery journey across the wild, unforgiving landscapes of the north of Spain. Along the road, she gets reacquainted with and fascinated by humans.

All the Moons and echoes of Låt den rätte komma in

All the Moons (original title, Ilargi Guztiak) feels like yet another variation in the vampire genre, but it’s one trading gore and scares for a more existentialist approach. Despite echoes of the hauntingly beautiful Låt den rätte komma in, Legarreta’s film is not a horror movie per se. If you’re looking for fang-tastic maulings, you might want to look elsewhere.

Without indulging in spoilers, the second act gets closer to the romance of the Swedish horror. The vampire girl — now responding to the name of Amaia — develops a special bond with farmer Candido (Josean Bengoetxea). While it’s not strictly romantic, it’s deeply sentimental nonetheless. Unlike the story of Eli and Oskar, All the Moons doesn’t pull the focus away from its protagonist. There could be room for a more traditionally romantic storyline, but All the Moons chooses not to go there. The relationship between Amaia and a young boy, in fact, is abandoned in favor of a much more meaningful connection with Candido.

Light and shadow

The Basque film also differs from the 2008 Scandinavian horror as it doesn’t come across as terrifying. This is not to say that All the Moons doesn’t feature some spine-chilling, bloody moments. The horror exists, but never overtakes the film’s quest for meaning. Legarreta’s film is primarily the story of a girl looking for what little humanity is left in her and others, regardless of their mortal status. 

All the Moons interweaves collective and personal drama in the story of Amaia. This is a movie thriving in contrasts, with its protagonist moving in the space between light and shadow, as Imanol Nabea’s camera doesn’t fail to point out. Threading the line between self-preservation and selfishness, the film reflects on the motivations behind all social interactions, including parental instincts and romantic love.

The film partly explores religion, too. Through the character of Candido, it zeroes in on Christianity’s inadequacy to deal with a person’s grief. The man who has vowed to protect Amaia has experienced the most terrible pain, not receiving support from his community. 

Exposing the brutal treatment the church reserves for the vampire girl, All the Moons also calls out a male-dominated, patriarchal structure afraid of those who are different, particularly women.

A very old girl

“I’m a very old girl,” Amaia says at one point. This line bottles up all the exhaustion and emotional baggage of a woman trapped in a younger body, a bit too tight to contain all of her moons. Carneros portrays Amaia and her struggles brilliantly, giving her character a maturity that’s well beyond her young years and fragile appearance.

Rarely one feels so invested in the life of a character who doesn’t say much. Yet, Carneros draws audiences in with her magnetic stare and powerful delivery, demanding you care for her Amaia. By the time the film reaches its last act, one carries the weight of the world together with the character.

In the final confrontation scene, Carneros is at her best as a girl who has seen too many moons, as well as love and loss, as she nears an end she isn’t even sure she can afford. And one can’t help but root for her.