Films have already used vampirism as a metaphor for more mundane addictions. In “Blood,” however, a recovered addict does not need an additional weight heaped to her already troubled family life.
Brad Anderson’s picture, starring Michelle Monaghan as a woman fresh out of rehab whose young kid is bitten and has an insatiable desire for the film’s titular fluid, strikes a balance between dysfunctional home drama and supernatural horror. This balance is not quite satisfactory.
But good performances and occasionally harsh subjects make this a compelling, if not fully satisfactory, viewing experience. This Friday, Vertical Entertainment will release the film in select U.S. cinemas, followed by On Demand platforms on January 31.
After completing a residential program for undefined substance abuse issues, Jessica (Monaghan) is back to work as a hospital nurse and reunited with her children, though Tyler (Skylar Morgan Jones) and Owen (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) are not thrilled to be moving into a remote, rather dreary old farmhouse with their mother.
Even less pleased is Patrick’s (Skeet Ulrich) ex-husband, who has had these children to himself for three years. He has a grudge against Jessica for uprooting them and harbors doubts about her rehabilitation, as she plainly put them all through the wringer.
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He has also established a new marital connection with Shelley (Danika Frederick), the former nanny of his children who is now pregnant with their half-sibling. This does not sit well with Jessica any more than his ominous rumblings about regaining complete custody.
Owen’s dog Pippin, a golden lab so placid that you would trust it not to hurt a fly, helps to ease the transition slightly. Pip appears to be both intrigued and alarmed by something in the nearby woods.
One night, he disappears, and when he returns a few days later, he is… not himself. Eyes aglow, he viciously attacks Owen, who must be rescued at the expense of the dog’s life by his mother. Whatever “possessed” Pip appears to have quickly transferred to his victim, whose recovery is inconsistent until Jessica recognizes he needs blood not only intravenously, but also orally, in large quantities. As soon as she brings him back home, the tale quickly enters an eerie zone as she satisfies his ever-growing desire.
Jessica is rendered unsympathetic by Monaghan’s depiction of her as a heroine whose parental devotion rarely falters in crossing some abhorrent limits. No wonder Ulrich’s ex-girlfriend worries she’s using again, given that she lies, deceives, and does worse to support her son’s hideous habit.
Jones performs admirably as the adolescent who realizes what’s going on before anybody else, while Wojtak-Hissong excels as the child whose feral behavior and creature makeup causes him to progressively disappear.
The destiny of Helen (June B. Wilde), an elderly woman who confides her suicidal anguish over a fatal cancer diagnosis to her nurse, is the cruelest aspect of Will Honley’s screenplay.
Once she requires a long-term blood “donor” for the tiny monster at home, whether voluntarily or not, this information drives Jessica to some pretty horrific justifications. The lengthy, brutal anguish that ensues is nearly too much for this picture to bear, its nauseating aftertaste is only assuaged when Helen is ultimately rendered irrelevant by the plot.
In feature-length films (as opposed to television series), Anderson has consistently unified the different tonal aspects of diverse screenplays, from the grim mental-health mysteries of “Session 9” and “The Machinist” to the international intrigue of “Transsiberian” and “Beirut.” As in “Stonehearst Asylum” and “Vanishing on 7th Street,” his subject matter has occasionally defeated him.
Blood falls somewhere in the middle: Its psychological reality gives depth to a weak fantasy-horror hook that it cannot fully transcend. In addition to an ambiguous relation to a dead tree in a dried-up lake near the farmhouse, we never learn who or what was responsible for the vampire phenomenon.
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The story’s haphazard marriage of conflicting components is never as effective as in a number of other eccentric bloodsucker film portrayals, such as “Martin” by George A. Romero and “Let the Right One In.” Nonetheless, the filmmaker and his team give a horrific premise strength and momentum.
Even if the result is typically less suspenseful than unsettling (since Jessica’s actions regularly make it appear as if she has relapsed), certain horror lovers may nevertheless find it appealing.
Shot mostly in Manitoba, the U.S. production features strong, attractive, and unobtrusive visual aspects that reinforce its tone as a melancholy tale of really terrible familial luck rather than an overt foray into the fantastic.
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