Vampirism isn’t a new concept for horror fans. Over the years there have been many interpretations of blood suckers ranging from classic, alluring vampires wandering gothic castles in their capes to more gnarly, gruesomely animalistic creatures ravenous for blood. In Blood, the latest film written by Will Honley (The Hive, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions) and directed by Brad Anderson (Session 9, Devil in Ohio), the filmmakers use vampirism to show how far a mother would go to save her child.
Blood tells the story of Jess (Michelle Monaghan), a nurse and mother of two who recently separated from her cheating husband and is forced to move to the old family farm. Right away, it’s clear how unfortunate Jess’s situation already is. She had to move from the only home her children have known and she is in a fierce divorce and custody battle with her ex, which is made more difficult because she has a history of substance abuse. Even though Jess has been sober for over a year, her past is just another hurtle getting in the way of gaining custody of her kids. Throwing an entire drum of gasoline into this fire, Jess’s son is attacked by the family dog after it disappears overnight. After the attack, Jess discovers the only thing that can keep her son alive and healthy is human blood.
The highlight of this film is definitely Monaghan’s performance. She is able to convey such a range of emotion and trauma throughout the film as Jess. Monaghan even delivers a very convincing performance as someone struggling with substance abuse and the parallels between those symptoms and someone suffering from prolonged blood loss. Yet where she truly shines is how she conveys Jess’s maternal instinct. She clearly is a loving and devoted mother, but there is an awkwardness to her interactions with the children because, up until this point, the kid’s father was the primary caregiver while Jess was working through her addiction. Finlay Wojtak-Hissong (The Banana Splits Movie) also delivers a haunting performance as Jess’s son, Owen, as he becomes less and less himself as his thirst for blood grows.
Jess’s maternal love is also a highlight of the plot in Blood. The lengths that Jess goes to in order to ensure her son’s safety forces the audience to consider how far they would go for their loved ones. It also makes one wonder at what point enough is enough. This alone makes for a compelling film, but there are other films tackling very similar situations that have done a better job tackling the emotional toll of caring for your loved ones no matter the cost. Blood also has an ending that, without giving away any spoilers, feels disjointed from the rest of the film.
On top of that, there are still some aspects that don’t work quite as well. Owen’s vampirism seems to originate from an ominous tree in the middle of a dried up lake near the farmhouse. For the most part, the filmmakers leave the origin and nature of the tree a mystery. While I do think leaving the tree and source of Owen’s newfound bloodlust a mystery is a wise decision, it still leaves one big lingering question; if the tree is the source of the vampirism, then how did Jess’s family never encounter it in the past? The farmhouse has been in her family for a while, and there are pictures of her relatives on the lake before it dried up. Was the tree always evil? Did it only take on a sinister nature after the lake dried up? All of these questions don’t necessarily need answers, but leaving them all unanswered does create a bit of a hole in the plot.
The setting of the remote, somewhat rundown farmhouse lends to the foreboding tone of the film. Even more menacing is the dried-up lake where the sinister tree can be found. It creates an impactful image that immediately sets off alarms, letting the audience know danger is at hand. When it comes to those infected with the vampire affliction, both the family dog and Owen, the most obvious physical sign they are not themselves is their eyes. Their eyes have that gleam like a lion’s eyes when light reflects off them in the darkness. It feels somewhat reminiscent of the eyes of the undead in Pet Sematary, which tackles similar themes as Blood.
Blood utilizes familial trauma to drive a story of vampirism with a unique mythology. While that mythology is murky and stories like this have been told and executed more effectively, the good overall outweighs the bad. Horror fans familiar with the work of both Honley and Anderson know what they are capable of and unfortunately this film doesn’t quite live up to that. What really saves Blood is Monaghan’s spectacular performance. She delivers a gripping portrayal of Jess that brings emotional depth to the film. Combine her performance with the dark, eerie imagery and Blood manages to be a compelling, if not somewhat disappointing viewing experience.
OVERALL RATING: 6/10