Tender familial lyricism elevates Igor Legarreta’s All The Moons, a Spanish wartime drama where vampires hide instead of seek. One might detect elements of Let the Right One In through 1800s looking glasses, or last year’s My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To except exponentially less bloody when setting the caregiving mood. It’s a familiar period retelling of themes that ponder the immortality of vampirism as a superpower or curse—certainly nothing revolutionary. Legarreta’s stuck-in-history fairytale is recognizably poetic beyond defangings, which allows the sympathy of compassionate storytelling to scare away otherwise generic labels.
Spain’s Basque Country plays backdrop to the Third Carlist War that rages until 1876, where Legarreta’s tale begins. An orphaned girl (Haizea Carneros) becomes the sole survivor when bombs collapse her church refuge atop nuns and other children, but she’s in dire need of aid. Out of the darkness emerges a woman who offers the wounded youth a choice—die, or live side-by-side as vampires. The expiring girl accepts and follows “Mother” until pitchforked villagers separate the two when raiding their hidden vampire camp. Enter Cándido (Josean Bengoetxea), the hospitable man who teaches “Amaia” what it means to live, die and everything in between.
All The Moons is more of a mood board than a movie. Yes it’s a fully coherent, multiple acts, characters and locations movie. It’s understated and somber, faithful to Pascal Gaigne’s comforting score that—call me crazy—smacks of Zelda soundtracks. Although, don’t expect Hyrule adventures, nor energetic plot deviations from predictable, even reused narrative templates. What endures are the moods of All The Moons, from wilderness photography to childhood romance to existential weights of eternity versus mortality. Competency is king once Transylvanian customs become a calling card, although the Basque villages and Amaia’s vulnerability sustain as outlying advantages.
The term “vampire” brings expectations of sucked necks and disposed of bodies, but All The Moons isn’t terribly violent. Instead, Cándido teaches Amaia what it means to be human instead of sacrificing civilians as meals. Amaia’s dances with mythology aren’t more than a few demands for blood within God’s hallowed walls or the refusal to stomach garlic soup. Their relationship is paternal—Cándido sees Amaia as a second chance after his daughter passed—and that’s all it’s ever meant to be. Amaia’s choice to become a nightwalker comes into question when she’s rescued by a wholesome parent, and their bond becomes what holds an alternative vampire script together—never sharpened stakes or feral outcries.
Of course, All The Moons may not resonate with audiences unprepared to behold a centuries-old exploration of second chances. Theological horrors simmer as Don Sebastián (Zorion Eguileor) questions Cándido’s caregiver plans, which isn’t worth more than suspense as Amaia swallows the Body of Christ. Outside an early siege that breaks Amaia and “Mother” apart, viewers focus on Imanol Nabea’s cinematography as snowy ridgelines and outdated villager accommodations turn our screens into a whimsical time capsule. Legarreta isn’t interested in gratuitous attacks or Amaia’s beastly side as a newly turned vamp. Legarreta cares only to champion the idea that eternity without loved ones is imprisonment.
Yes, I’ve reviewed eleventy-hundred vampire or creature stories like All The Moons before. No, that doesn’t diminish proper storytelling and worthwhile messages represented by visually crisp means. Horror can be as loud as 30 Days of Night or as soft as Amaia’s slurping of a blood bowl like chicken soup on a sick day. All The Moons is never horrific, frequently touching and an overall successful tangle of emotions that keeps its genre trends locked away, because Legarreta isn’t making the next Stake Land. Quiet, warm words are the film’s ultimate calling card behind an enchanting score and empathetic tone that still linger after the scars from any after-dark bite heal.
Director: Igor Legarreta
Writer: Igor Legarreta, Jon Sagalá
Starring: Itziar Ituño, Zorion Eguileor, Josean Bengoetxea, Haizea Carneros
Release Date: February 11, 2022
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.