Early in his career, Brad Anderson directed two cult classic thrillers, The Machinist and Session 9. Though The Machinist may be best known for actor Christian Bale’s startling physical transformation, many horror fans consider Session 9 to be an underrated gem. Several years later, Anderson directed Halle Berry in the surprise box office hit, The Call. Now Anderson’s back with an indie horror twist on vampire mythology, Blood. After a film festival screening last fall, Blood saw a limited theatrical release earlier this year. Unfortunately, critics have been a bit more mixed on Anderson’s latest effort.
In the midst of an acrimonious split from her husband, Jess moves her teen daughter and young son to the old family farmhouse. Shortly after settling in, the family dog goes missing when it chases after something in the woods. When the dogs returns home a few days later, something isn’t quite right – it viciously attacks Jess’ son, Owen. Though Owen survives the attack, he’s infected with a strange virus and quickly develops a craving for blood. As Owen’s craving grows, Jess quickly learns just how far she will go to protect her own son.
Blood Too Often Drags, Lacking Urgency to its Story
In its opening shot, hovering above a twisted old tree surrounded by a dried-up lake, Blood teases the same kind of haunting horror that director Brad Anderson crafted in Session 9. Despite a methodical first 20 minutes or so, Anderson initially delivers on that promise. There’s a subtle feeling of unease that surrounds Jess’ family farmhouse. Besides we know that by virtue of it being a horror movie featuring a broken family retreating to the country that something bad is waiting around the corner. When the family dog – maybe named after the dog in Jaws – shows up looking rabid Anderson adds a decent jolt and sense of urgency. From that point onward, Blood occasionally elicits discomfort as Jess increasingly strays down a ‘how far will she go’ path to protect her son.
This isn’t slow burn horror as Anderson doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to go anywhere …
Unfortunately, Blood eventually settles into a languid rhythm. This isn’t slow burn horror as Anderson doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to go anywhere with a story written by Will Honley (Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, Bloodline). Nearly two hours in length, Blood often has too little going on, losing that brief moment of urgency from its first act. Eventually, even things that should provoke a feeling of horror just sort of happen. In addition, Honley’s screenplay can’t avoid steering the story into predictable territory. At this point, horror fans have seen enough variations on vampire lore to figure this one out. Nearly everything about this thriller looks first rate; it just isn’t very affecting.
Blood Held Together By a Quietly Desperate Performance From Michelle Monaghan
Arguably, Michelle Monaghan’s (Nanny, The Craft: Legacy) performance as the struggling single mother, ‘Jill’, is the best part of Blood. Monaghan is a chronically under-appreciated actress who often quietly props up the films in which she appears. Here, Monaghan again offers a quiet study of a woman struggling to hold things together under immense pressure. Even as Honley’s story inches towards predictability in its overarching narrative and themes, Monaghan ensure Jill is a layered and believable character. Somewhere in Honley’s screenplay is a deeper movie about maternal sacrifice, but this part of the story ultimately fails Monaghan.
Here, Monaghan again offers a quiet study of a woman struggling to hold things together under immense pressure.
Though Blood gives him a couple of good scenes where he gets to flex some dramatic chops, Skeet Ulrich (Scream, The Craft) feels underutilized. Playing estranged husband, Patrick, Ulrich avoids playing the role like the traditional sleazy ex who largely serves as an obstacle. Like Monaghan, Ulrich ensures the character feels real – a father who wants to protect his children. And to be fair, Blood isn’t Ulrich’s movie as the story intentionally centers the emotional conflict around Jill. Both child actors – Skylar Morgan Jones and Finlay Wojtak-Hissong (The Banana Splits Movie) – are excellent in their respective roles.
Blood a Decent Effort, But Leaves Something on the Table
On one hand, Blood is a technically well-made thriller that boasts a terrific performance from Michelle Monaghan. Maybe it’s the initially atmospheric setup that devolves quickly into a predictable indie vampire story. Or perhaps it’s the lack of action over its one hour and 48 minutes. And Blood certainly feels like a long movie. While Anderson includes a handful of shocking and uncomfortable moments, he never creates any sense of urgency to story. This is less of a slow burn and more just long periods of inaction occasionally punctuated by something happening. Simply put, Blood lacks the narrative heft to be a thoughtful thriller and it doesn’t have enough vampire thrills or suspense to satisfy horror fans.