Vampires were all the rage several years ago. With the Twilight film franchise and the HBO series True Blood, it felt like the fanged villains were everywhere. Nothing lasts forever though, and zombies eventually shuffled into the spotlight. It feels like a lot of time has passed since we had a really good vampire film.
While it may not kick off a new vampire trend, the horror assembly line at Blumhouse Productions has obliged and dropped a new vampire flick onto Netflix this past week – Family Blood. Just about everything under the sun has been done with vampire mythology, but could this new Blumhouse film deliver 90 minutes of bloodthirsty scares?
Ellie, a single mother and recovering addict, has moved her two teen children to a new city in the hopes of starting over. She’s lost custody due to her addiction in the past and her oldest son is skeptical of her newfound sobriety. At a group meeting for addicts, Ellie meets Christopher – a strange man with a rather vague addiction. When Christopher takes an interest in Ellie, he ‘changes’ her in ways she could not have imagined, Now Ellie has a new, much more dangerous addiction that puts her new life with her family at risk.
Family Blood Offers a Spooky Atmosphere
Writer and director Sonny Mallhi kicks things off with an intense opening scene. It’s a highly effective cold start that sets the tone defining most of Family Blood – a tense and restrained atmosphere. This is a morose horror film that puts its family drama ahead of more conventional horror elements. Ellie’s battle with addiction and her struggles to earn back the trust of her children form the core of the film. Mallhi largely does a good job balancing the human drama elements with the requisite horror aspects of the film.
…Mallhi works well with his smaller budget and delivers a few shocking moments of vampire violence.
In this sense, Family Blood doesn’t really add much to the vampire mythology. There’s nothing in the narrative we haven’t seen in a dozen or so other vampire films. Nevertheless, Mallhi works well with his smaller budget and delivers a few shocking moments of vampire violence. Not much actual blood is spilled but the vampire attacks are executed with a brutal suddenness. In one of the film’s better scenes, Ellie, unable to control her hunger, corners a victim in the basement, switching off a light bulb before attacking. The scene uses light and darkness, understanding that what you can’t see is often more frightening than what is on screen.
Good Performances and Some Undead Miscasting
As Ellie, Vinessa Shaw delivers a strong performance, carrying much of the film. Horror fans will recognize Shaw from her role as eldest daughter, Lynn, in The Hills Have Eyes remake. Shaw convinces as a mother struggling to re-connect with her children while fighting addiction. In several scenes, she’s able to express hopelessness and pain with silent facial expressions. It’s a performance that elicits empathy from the audience. As her eldest son, Colin Ford also adds depth to the rebellious teen, channeling the emotional struggles of someone who loves their mother but desperately wants to avoid being hurt.
Where Family Blood falters is with its casting of James Ransone as vampire Christopher. Ransone was perfectly fine in a small supporting role as the Deputy in Sinister but showed he wasn’t able to carry a film as the lead with Sinister 2. Not much has changed in Family Blood. Ransone isn’t terrible in the role, but he lacks charisma and conveys very little menace. His performance is quiet and understated, barely registering above a calm whisper. Unfortunately, the performance hurts one of the more central aspects of the film.
Ending Fails to Deliver on the Promise of the Opening Scene
Family Blood delivers two endings, neither of which is entirely satisfactory. The confrontation between Ellie and Christopher, built up over the course of the film, feels abrupt and is a bit of a let-down. This may be in part due to a budgetary restrictions. Regardless of the reasons it feels like Mallhi failed to deliver on the promise of that fantastic opening scene. Things continue with a second, more extended ending, that drags a little. It’s a necessary scene given the important role family dynamics play in the film, but it feels like the screenplay tried to throw a little too much into those closing moments.
A Serviceable Horror Effort
All that being said, Family Blood is a perfectly serviceable horror film. It doesn’t re-invent the subgenre or add any unique twists to the vampire narrative. Yet it’s a well-paced horror effort that manages to balance its emotional story with a moody atmosphere and a few decent scares spread over its runtime. You may not remember much of Family Blood a few hours after watching it, but you won’t feel like you wasted your time.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B-