DUBAI: Breaking new ground isn’t easy. Just ask Rami Yasin, the writer and director of “Bloodline,” billed as “the first Arab vampire film.”
It’s been two months since “Bloodline” premiered on MBC’s Shahid VIP platform, where it initially appeared to be a success, with hugely impressive viewing figures. However, that was quickly followed by a tidal wave of derision on social media. Yasin was stunned. Making the film had fulfilled a lifelong dream. Now, he can’t stop thinking that he ended up making the most misunderstood film of 2020.
“I thought to myself, ‘Did I really mess up and make such a bad movie?’ I just couldn't comprehend it. At some point, I just wanted to leave the world and I couldn't leave the world, so I left my apartment, and I took a small case and checked into a hotel and just stayed by myself for two days,” Yasin tells Arab News. “Then I realized, this was not a reflection on the movie at all. It was a reflection of how unprepared the audience is for this kind of film.”
Years before Yasin became a tenured producer, years before he served as the first assistant director on the acclaimed George Clooney film “Syriana,” he was a Jordanian boy growing up in Abu Dhabi, with a TV presenter father who loved movies and a mother whom he didn’t yet know was superhuman.
He was already in love with horror films, and vampires in particular, but one day, at six years old, something happened that would go on to inspire his own vampire story decades later. He and his brother accidentally set fire to the family apartment while playing with matches, and after his mother saved their lives, she realized her youngest son was still upstairs in the apartment.
“The fire had crawled up the staircase. Our neighbors tried to hold her back, but she ran through the fire, smelling her hair burn all the way, to the second floor of the apartment, took my brother, ran out on the balcony, jumped onto a wall onto a ledge and was standing there and waiting until the fire brigade came. After that, I grew up believing mothers turn into superheroes.”
“Bloodline” is about a mother like his. It’s unlike the many vampire stories that have come before it, eschewing “Dracula” and “Twilight” tropes to tell the story of a woman named Lamia — played by Egyptian star Nelly Karim — who rescues her son from certain death by turning him into a vampire, and then fights to keep their family from falling apart in the wake of his transformation.
According to Yasin, many things led to his story being misinterpreted by Middle Eastern audiences. First, it is a supernatural family drama, not a pure horror film, and yet its marketing campaign primed viewers for a horror film with big scares that the film doesn’t even try to deliver, focusing instead on the emotional journey of the mother.
“The challenge was to get the audience not to be scared of this family but scared for them,” Yasin says. “We're trying to create this feeling of apprehension, that something might be around the corner that might actually jeopardize the family. You want the family to survive, to succeed.”
Complicating matters further, audiences with little exposure to the genre expected a vampire film to be similar to those they have seen come from other countries, such as “Underworld,” “Blade,” or “Interview with a Vampire.” Instead, they got something totally new, leaving them unsure how to judge the film Yasin actually made.
“As a filmmaker, I really think that people (in the region) are not willing to take the risks with horror. There hasn't been years and years of turning out horror movies to get audiences used to seeing them. As a result, it just didn’t work for some audiences because they see horror either as a foreign film, or as a really big film where it's all about effects,” says Yasin.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, “Bloodline” also debuted exclusively on streaming, foregoing its originally planned theatrical run across the region. While the move made the film an immediate financial success, that change affects how audiences take in a movie, according to Yasin, as we are often more critical of movies while watching them on our couch, as we are not really immersed in the vision of the filmmaker.
“It's a completely different experience. When you go to the cinema, the filmmakers are inviting you into their world. At home, you're inviting the filmmakers into your house, so there's a lot of judgment that's happens as a result of that shift,” says Yasin.
The negative reaction to “Bloodline” was especially difficult for Yasin as the film also marked his directorial debut, which had been decades in the making. Yasin spent the beginning of his professional life in advertising, and after years of success, he realized he couldn’t let go of his dream of making movies, quitting his job to move to Canada and work as a personal assistant on movie sets, soaking up all the knowledge that he could.
When a friend approached him with an opportunity in Dubai, he returned, working his way up from project to project, finding his greatest success as a producer with Abu Dhabi-based Image Nation. All the while, he was writing, waiting for the moment when he could step behind the camera himself rather than aid another director’s vision, as much as he loved doing so.
“Bloodline” brought him that chance, and he was grateful he got to finally tell the story he’d kept in his head in some form nearly his whole life, and the many friends who helped him make it.
“You can't hide from where your heart is, or what you love, or what you like, you've got to be true to it. There's so much of me in that film. It's just a reflection of the kind of discourse that my mind kind of constantly battles with, my view of the world and of a lot of other things as well,” says Yasin.
“Bloodline” was a labor of love for Yasin, and that love has not faded. Even as he courts new projects as a writer, including a supernatural miniseries, and continues his prolific work as a producer, Yasin keeps finding himself drawn back to the film.
“I still, on average, watch it once a week. I don't know if other filmmakers do that. There's so much that I love in it. Now, of course, I see things maybe I would have made differently, but I keep watching it because I still go through the immersion. I think there's a really beautiful emotional journey in the film, I still get touched by it every single time I see it. I swear to you, and maybe I'm crazy, but I do. I've written it, and directed and produced it, and acted in it, but besides that, I'm watching it for the 30th time, and I still feel that,” he says. “I know someone out there is feeling something for it too.”