‘Blood’ Review: By-the-Books Vampire Tale Explores Drug Addiction and Motherly Sacrifices
For many decades, vampire stories were focused mainly on the cursed existence of these creatures, doomed to wander the nights alone for all eternity, deprived of their humanity. However, while an agonizing eternal life remains at the center of vampire stories, the blood-suckers also serve as the perfect metaphor for drug addiction. After all, vampires struggle with dark cravings that must be satiated at all costs, even if it means hurting other people. Director Brad Anderson’s Blood is one of the rare vampire movies to focus entirely on the subject of drug addiction, which could make it a refreshing entry to the subgenre. Unfortunately, Blood’s script leans too heavily on tropes. Besides that, Anderson’s competent direction cannot help with Blood’s mixed messages about drug addiction and an ultimately unlikable protagonist.
Blood follows recently-divorced mother Jess (Michelle Monaghan) as she moves into her family’s old farmhouse with her two children, Owen (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) and Tyler (Skylar Morgan Jones). Blood only takes a couple of minutes to let us know Jess is entangled in a legal battle with her ex-husband (Skeet Ulrich), as both parents want full custody of the children. Things are not looking so good for Jess, though, as her history with pill addiction gives her ex-husband all the ammunition he needs in court. This real human drama soon gets supernatural outlines when Owen gets sick and begins to thirst for blood. So, both through the divorce process and while trying to keep Owen alive, Jess needs to ask how far a loving mother can go to keep her children safe. Meanwhile, Owen’s craving forces the whole family to confront the dreadful consequences of addiction.
While Blood is a fairly solid horror experience, the movie fails to properly explore the many ideas it brings to the table. Both motherhood sacrifices and drug addiction are complex questions that could each fill a whole movie by themselves – and they do, often. In Blood, however, things often feel rushed, despite a 108 minute runtime that overstays its welcome. That’s because Blood’s screenplay cannot decide if it’s more important to respect the supernatural rules it has set over time or stick to its metaphor. Sometimes, Blood is so concerned with its themes that it abandons internal coherence. In other moments, Blood focuses completely on the story and, as a result, sends mixed messages regarding the best way to deal with addiction and the limits of a mother’s love. In addition, when the movie is focused on the horror of it all, it never escapes the restraints of clichés, so much that the movie ultimately feel like a spin on classics such as Pet Sematary.
Thanks to his experience with gripping psychological thrillers such as Fractured and The Machinist, Anderson knows how to build tension, which helps Blood to maintain an eerie atmosphere for its entire runtime. Owen’s blood-feeding habits also make for disturbing imagery, especially since Anderson never refrains from showing the whole process in detail, with the help of excellent practical effects. On top of everything, Blood’s fantastic cast helps to elevate the movie, distracting the audience from the script problems with surprisingly layered performances. Even the young cast of Blood shines whenever they get a chance to steal the spotlight, which again underlines how Anderson ran a tight ship with Blood. Still, it feels like the whole cast and crew are doing their best to save a script that, unfortunately, undermines their efforts at every turn.
For instance, Blood is focused on Jess’ journey as she does whatever she can to keep Owen healthy and satisfied. But even if Monaghan delivers a touching performance, it’s hard to create any emotional connection with Jess when she never takes a step back to think about what she’s doing. As Owen’s cravings worsen, Jess takes more drastic measures to give her son what he needs. And not even once does Blood’s script give her time to reflect on her deeds or feel guilty. Yes, love alone can justify Jess’s monstrous decisions. Yet, since Blood doesn’t explore Jess’s internal universe, all we get are her increasingly disturbing actions, which makes it impossible to cheer for her in any way.
With a great cast and a competent direction, Blood might be enough to quench horror fiends thirty for unusual vampire movies. Nevertheless, the film’s lack of a likable protagonist makes it challenging for Blood to keep its emotional stakes. Finally, the inability of the script to tell a cohesive story while simultaneously dealing with complex themes frequently gets in the way of the audience enjoying the movie. Due to all that, Blood‘s biggest flaw is letting us glimpse at a better movie that could have existed with just a little more writing time.
Blood comes to theaters on January 27 and on demand on January 31.