Director/Screenplay – Dave Schultz, Producers – Bruce Harvey, Anand Ramayya & Dave Schultz, Photography – Craig Wrobleski, Music – Erland & The Carnival, Visual Effects – Darren Bierman, Special Effects Supervisor – Paul Noel, Makeup Effects – Emerson Ziffle, Production Design – Hugh Shankland. Production Company – Telefilm Canada/Shaw Rocket Fund/Astral’s Harold Greenberg Fund/Rogers Telefund/Movie Central/The Movie Network/Lonely Boy Productions
Rory J. Saper (Rufus), Merritt Patterson (Tracy McKay), David James Elliott (Sheriff Hugh Wade), Kim Coates (Aaron Van Dousen), Kelly Rowan (Jennifer Wade), Richard Harmon (Clay Oxley), Tom Carey (Chet), Nancy Sorel (Vickie McKay), Dave Brown (Trucker), Christina Jastrzembska (Louise Kettle), Rob Roy (Joe Prior)
The teenage Rufus and his elderly companion Louise Kettle arrive in the tiny nowhere American town of Conrad. As they do, she deliberately steps out into the path of a truck and is killed. Afterwards, with nowhere to stay, Rufus is taken in by the local sheriff Hugh Wade and his wife Jennifer until everything can be sorted out. Rufus is shy and socially withdrawn but is befriended by the neighbouring girl Tracy McKay. When Tracy is attacked by Clay, a guy she split up with, Rufus comes to her defence and savagely attacks Clay, sprouting teeth and claws to drink his blood. Tracy is certain that Rufus is a vampire, although he lacks many of the qualities usually associated with vampires. In his need to find more blood, Rufus is forced to attack others. However, the missing bodies and questions about Louise’s death start to raise suspicions. Next, the town is visited by Aaron Van Dousen, the representative of a pharmaceutical company, which had previously held Rufus a prisoner to study his unique biology and are now determined to bring him back.
In the 2010s, the vampire film has become a phenomenon deader than undead ever since Twilight (2008) and sequels reduced the central figure from the scourge of evil and snarling seducer of Victorian maidens that Bram Stoker created to a mopey lovestruck Robert Pattinson. The number of vampire films that have been made since the Twilight phenomenon is close to but not quite zero; the number that the public is willing to take seriously and be scared by any longer is even less than that. On the face of it, a film named Rufus seems to be doing as little as it possibly could to suggest a vampire film. The title alone makes you think you are going to be watching some kind of boy and his dog drama. An even less PC-reading makes you think that maybe the film is some kind of Jim Crow-era comedy featuring atrociously racist caricatures. (It is perhaps for these reasons that the film was retitled Hunted for US release).
Rufus also offsets any of your expectations of a vampire film. On the face of it, most of the show seems to be a film about smalltown values – relaxed arcs as boy meets girl, about the strange kid to town fighting prejudice, the locals coming to his defence and so on. The soundtrack is filled with amiably folksy music and the pace is very laidback. None of which suggests a vampire film at all.
The two vampire films you might reach to for comparison are the Swedish Let the Right One In (2008), or its English-language remake Let Me In (2010), and George Romero’s Martin (1976). From Martin, we have the idea of a pale, socially awkward youth that everyone around assumes is just a weird teenager but also happens to be an immortal who occasionally needs to go out to kill people and drink their blood. From Let the Right One In, we have the friendship/relationship between a vampire and a mortal neighbour – one of whom looks like and is thought to be an ordinary youth and how the mortal becomes drawn in but is unfazed by the other’s non-human nature and becomes complicit in helping them cover up their crimes. As opposed to Let the Right One In, Rufus makes the vampire be the boy rather than the girl, and ups the (apparent) age of both parties into their teens rather than has them as pre-adolescents.
Rufus works quite nicely as an amiable, laidback film about smalltown values with a focus on character interactions. All of the actors play very nicely. And all of this is far from anything we expect of a vampire film. The people whose blood that Rory J. Saper drains are ones whose actions mark them as deserving – a paedophile truck driver, bullying Richard Harmon who we are first introduced to as in the midst of attacking Merritt Patterson. There is no equivalent of a vampire hunter here. At most, we get Kim Coates as the representative of a pharmaceutical company that regards Rory J. Saper as their property and want to reclaim him. Coates is painted as the traditional black hat villain of the show, although even then gets speeches about the necessity of his actions. And even when the climax of the film comes, it is about Rory J. Saper acting to protect the family who have welcomed him despite his oddities. At the fadeout, we see him affecting a semblance of normality as Merritt Patterson sees him onto the school bus – in other words, where the oddball outsider has finally been assimilated into an everyday American community, is now going to school and has a girlfriend. Which, when you think about it, represents the complete assimilation and normalising of the vampire just as much as the Twilight series did.
Rufus was the third film for Canadian director Dave Schultz who has previously made the non-genre comedies Jet Boy (2001) and 45 R.P.M. (2008). He has also written the scripts for a number of other films including the biowarfare thriller Anthrax (2001) and the dystopian future film The Humanity Bureau (2017).