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More bite

All look, little feel to Crimson Winter

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In this paranormal-romance-inundated day and age, if you're going to tell a vampire story, you must consider three important elements. You need to define your particular take on the folklore, establish romantic tension with humans, and maybe most importantly, make it sexy. That last bit is what Crimson Winter excels at, to be sure.

Crimson Winter is the first part in a forthcoming trilogy written and directed by Carroll College alumnus Bryan Ferriter, who also stars in the production. Our hero is the handsome, beefy Elric, a vampire prince who has spent thousands of years hoping that humans and vamps could someday live in harmony. Crimson's vampires are apparently unharmed by daylight, and seem to survive just fine solely off deer and elk blood, so I don't see why Elric's idea can't work. But he's almost alone in this admirable pursuit, and for years other humans and his family have worked to thwart him.

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As flashbacks explain Elric's past, including the tragic death of his human girlfriend in the 1700s, the story works up to present-day Helena, where a group of students studying mysterious deer deaths are about to collide with Elric's enclave of vampires.

The movie was shot over three years on a modest $400,000 budget, and Ferriter's crew of college students dealt with obstacles like below-zero temperatures, stuntwork injuries and the death of one of the actors, Keith Carlson.

But thanks to Montana's dramatic scenery, Crimson looks fantastic — all moody, high-contrast cinematography reminiscent of "Game of Thrones." Helicopter shots sweep above stark, windy landscapes. Dark blood spatters against white snow. Candelight flickers on high-cheekboned faces, and characters stride around mountainsides in sharply tailored coats. Muscular dudes and beautiful women gratuitously remove shirts. The use of unusual perspectives and lighting is masterful; Ferriter and his production team, Interwoven Studios, show real talent here.

Crimson is plenty campy, as you'd expect, and I'm willing to overlook some of the anachronistic props, like Moscow mule mugs. Where it could have really used some help is with plot structure. I wish Ferriter had killed more of his darlings (pun somewhat intended). A good chunk of the first part of the movie isn't necessary; it's light on the action and heavy on dramatic, expository dialogue that doesn't actually tell us much about the world in which these people live. It's important to establish early on what rules your vampires have to follow — think "True Blood," and how it did this right in the pilot episode, creating an elaborate mythology to spur ongoing plot twists and turns. I want more details about how the Crimson vamps eat and perpetuate themselves; this is a big part of what's interesting about retellings of vampire stories.

The story could also use a stronger female presence. I mean, ideally all films would be better at including empowered women, but this is a particular hallmark for paranormal romances, which need to give a largely female fanbase somebody to identify with. Unfortunately, the three or so women in Crimson with major speaking roles serve as little more than spouts of declarative statements or tragically beautiful window dressing, and their only motivations seem to be adoring the heroes. The women in Crimson Winter don't get to do any of the biting or fighting.

Plot issues aside, this is still an impressive effort from a newbie filmmaker, and it's at least as engaging as a certain well-known sparkly vampire series. I'm hopeful that the storytelling will improve with the next installments of the trilogy. In the meantime, I'd recommend kicking back with a glass of wine and enjoying Crimson Winter for its eye candy.

Crimson Winter opens at the Roxy Theater Fri., Jan 31. Visit theroxytheater.org.

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