Our image of a vampire is simple: A frightening figure all in black with fanged teeth and a thirst for blood. If you cross one’s path, don’t expect to live. Their image has made it hard not to consider them monsters. Even just by looking at Bela Lugosi’s depiction of Dracula, that isn’t someone you could consider one of the bros and take out for a beer. (Being one of the iconic “Universal Monsters” doesn’t help, either.) But what if vampire films could be tear-jerkers with sympathetic depictions of vampires fighting to regain their mortality? That’s exactly what Igor Legarreta does. A film about destiny and found family, All the Moons doesn’t stick to stereotypes in its narrative centering around a newly transformed young girl. There are no fangs, no human lives lost by draining of the neck, and the word “vampire” is never even uttered. The vampires depicted here would rather hide away than lure in innocent victims. In fact, the victims of this tale are the vampires. The vampires in All the Moons were people on the verge of death, chosen for a second, eternal life. But eternal life is more like eternal hell.
We are greeted with the sound of cannon fire. It’s 1876 and the third Carlist war is near its end in Spain. Children shelter in the basement of an orphan’s home, praying louder and louder for God to protect them. Then, there’s nothing but rubble. However, out of this is one survivor. As an unnamed young girl (Haizea Carneros) struggles to free herself from the fallen stone, a shrouded figure approaches. The film then shifts to the moment she awakens somewhere else, with a woman (Itziar Ituño) at her side. “Do you want to be healed,” she asks. An easy answer, and after drinking an unknown substance, the girl wakes up healed but different. Her veins on her small white hands protrude, every little sound, every little chirp, cricket, and wind gust is heightened – some excellent sound design to help us get into her headspace. The house she wakes up in looks like it’s about to fall into ruin itself and every window is covered with cloth. “You can’t go outside during the day,” the woman says. “It’s dangerous and the soldiers would see you.” But the soldiers aren’t the only threat. You clue in that this is a commune of vampires, as they go out at night and suck the remaining blood of corpses. The woman seems to have transformed the girl out of sheer loneliness, but the girl has never had a mother, so she’s lonely too. The woman promises her that she’ll never be alone again, and these opening scenes are touching and tender as you begin to see a deep bond quickly forming between these two. But the young orphan’s new home does crumble; they are found by soldiers, and in the chaos, the woman and the girl are separated.
The film’s first half ends almost too quickly and we are left with little backstory on the mysterious vampire woman. She’s a powerful, intriguing presence, but despite their separation, her memory lingers with the girl for the rest of the film. Now, the young girl is alone and in an animalistic body, she no longer understands. As 10 years pass, she’s had to try to survive in her vampiric form with the very little knowledge she was given by the woman who “saved” her. This decade spent secluded in a cave has changed her. While she hasn’t aged a day, she now wipes blood from her lips and looms high above in the trees draped in the moonlight. She’s no longer the weak little bird she once was but is now a caged one, and a beautiful score hangs overhead with a hopefulness. She was once told by the vampire woman that she would live to see all the moons, but after these ten years, all she wants to do is bask in the sun. She’s determined to live in a bright world like she once did. And when she finally ventures out of her cave, she manages to do so. Along the way, she meets a cheese farmer named Candido (Josean Bengoetxea), and they come to form a special bond. He’s a kind man who has also known loss, and while he’ll never be able to understand her, he accepts her. He shows much irritation to her odd behavior at first but grows protective as the film goes on. Candido also bestows upon her a name: Amaia. There are many touching moments like this through their time together, moments that are cause for tears, but this one is especially pivotal. Amaia has been going through an identity crisis, and being called by a name again provides comfort in a way – helps to get a sense of who she used to be. Through her time spent with Candido, she shows an uncharacteristic amount of humanity and love, but the presence of the vampire woman is still in the back of her mind telling her that she’s not like them and that this isn’t truly her home. All the Moons, at its core, explores what it means to be human, with Amaia having to choose who she wants to be. The last half is a courageous journey as she sets out to reset the course of a life chosen for her.
There are so many things that make All the Moons a success. Legarreta and Jon Sagalá’s script is both captivating and stirring. As mentioned, the score by Pascal Gaigne is lovely and delicate in contrast to the moody and haunting atmosphere. But the true technical standout has to be Imanol Nabea’s cinematography. The shots here are breathtaking in almost every scene, especially the underwater cinematography, and the final shot is the icing on the cake. There’s also some spectacular play with lighting, namely in a scene with Amaia running through a forest as green light looks to be emanating from the trees themselves. We are also gifted with the phenomenal talents of Ituño and Bengoetxea, but it’s Carneros in her first-ever film role that’s truly sensational. She’s a raw talent and the best discovery of the year, with so much anticipation for what she does next. She doesn’t have many lines and doesn’t speak much until way past the first half, so she must dig deep and convey emotions physically that she perhaps doesn’t even understand fully, but there is so much depth in her affecting performance for someone so new and young. As the film focuses a lot on the pain Amaia experiences through having to watch herself outlive everyone she loves, Carneros’ emotion helps create this surprisingly sympathetic depiction of vampires. “I’m only a girl,” she says – and you believe her.
Through Legarreta’s touching portrayal of vampire lore, its universal theme of loneliness, and the engrossing battle to have agency over personal destiny, All the Moons cements itself as one of the best vampire films of all time.