Blood (2023) Review
Blood was directed by Brad Anderson (Fractured, Vanishing on 7th Street), written by Will Honley (The Hive, Bloodline), and stars Michelle Monaghan (Black Site, The Path), Finlay Wojtak-Hissong (The Banana Splits Movie, Dreamkatcher), Skylar Morgan Jones (iGirl, Terror in the Woods), Skeet Ulrich (Riverdale, Chill Factor), June B. Wilde (Preggoland, Hope Springs), and Danika Frederick (First Person Shooter, Once Upon a Christmas Miracle). It follows a mother whose son gets bit by a diseased dog as she goes to extreme lengths to aid him and maintain her life.
The Plot: Normally, vampire stories follow more gothic storylines about lineages and societal aggression or less serious and more outlandish, fetishized views of gratuity, but Honley comes up with something different – for a time. His vision doesn’t have an endpoint, but it extends itself decently.
Amidst a recovery from addiction and a moving process, Jess (Monaghan) barely has the time to watch over her kids, Owen (Wojtak-Hissong) and Tyler (Jones), with an eagle eye. By the time this process is nearing its end, Pippin, the family dog, is overcome by a mysterious illness and viciously attacks Owen, putting the kid in the hospital and the dog down. It’s a memorable and downbeat first half hour that provides numerous chances for elaboration, of which only a few are taken – such as said illness, which Blood never explains beyond the vaguest of hints.
What comes of this is all the more pressing for Jess, as Owen develops a specific (but unjustified) taste for orally ingested (you guessed it) blood, which drives the mother to extremes to keep her son alive. Honley doesn’t quite bring a new spin on the ideas at hand, as Blood’s attention is routinely diverted by scenes of investigation that doesn’t go anywhere and meetings with Jess’s ex-husband Patrick (Ulrich) and his new girlfriend Shelly (Frederick) that could’ve used reworks. As the illness progresses, new sources of plasma are required, which results in cancer patient Helen (Wilde) becoming an asset; which in turn keeps Blood’s wheels spinning.
Some might call the way Anderson and Honley end the film a brave decision – which may well be true – but it’s more of a copout when not much is learned or understood, making the second half of Blood far less engaging than the first.
The Characters: What the film lacks in a vivid and fleshed-out idea, it makes up for with a family with well-realized backstories, quirks, and personalities that retain interest when the plot gets hazy; all combined with terrific performances – especially by Monaghan and Wojtak-Hissong.
Jess is a great character whose emotions and flaws pair together to make a rather neutral representation of grief and stress. Not everything pertaining to her history is present, like what addiction she’s recovering from and why it happened, but Honley does tie the effects to her present. Pulled in different directions by her job as a nurse, her recovery, and her kids, she doesn’t have it easy – however, Blood makes sure to note that she’s trying at all of the above to varying degrees of success. This is all foundational material, but her stress and action continue her growth extremely well.
Owen and Skylar are given all the childlike behaviours and vernacular that should accompany any tike. Owen is an adventurous kid who loves his dog and has his own curiosities like avoiding olives, sleeping with the light on and door open in a new environment, and later apologetic maturity. It’s the little things that shade in the character, and Blood is also wise to not make him a constant hassle like many other films revolving around children. Tyler isn’t quite as interesting as a character, but her apprehension to the new house, lack of father figure, and protective instinct of Owen make her more than just a proverbial middle child.
Mistakes come with the inclusion of Patrick and Shelly, who have paired off since the man cheated on his wife. Though his presence in Blood is understandable, the addition of Shelly and the child they made together is a reach that didn’t need to happen, and though Patrick’s goals are sound, the movie tries and fails to build him into a secondary villain. Still, the current family is rendered with detail and understanding, which is what the movie needed to get right.
The Drama: Blood is billed as a straight horror film, but it’s more of a horrifying drama with the way that Anderson presents the situation, and he largely succeeds in taking the allegorical aspect of the story to a new place, along with most of the familial stuff.
Motherhood is the primary focus of the feature, which is strongly visualized by Jess and the other characters involved, and where their goals take them. Between all of the expected actions like preparing meals and laundry she’s dealing with meetings about custody specifics and sating Tyler’s discomfort of all things; together with the discovery and escalation of her son’s vampiric requirements, she has her work cut out. The distances Jess goes as she unravels Owen’s condition sell the situation, with hospital supplies, adopted pets, and other sources being scoured with vigour to do what’s necessary for her son, no matter the risk, sell the situation.
Pain of various stems and degrees makes up the other side of Blood, which only gets half of its subject right. Patrick’s flip-flopping mentality is largely believable as he struggles with the infrequent contact he has with his kids, shifting blame onto Jess wherever he can if it helps his image with CPS. This works as an idea, but the dialogue that he gets makes him into a one-note villain as the movie goes on. Helen’s cancer comes as a side plot, and the movie devotes a significant amount of time to her, but all of the speculative talk about reaching the end means nothing when she’s rendered moot by the script.
Again, the film’s dramatic potential is at least reached where it matters, but there’s plenty of room for improvement within the other areas that are examined. The themes land but some of the expressions are meaningless.
The Technics: Deliberately simple and without frills, Blood has most of the technical prowess one should expect from a helmer as experienced and talented as Anderson. For some of those under his direction though, there are some missteps.
Anderson’s direction of scenes is strong yet subdued, with a focus on the actors rather than what goes on around them being a consistent choice throughout the film. Because the script leans so heavily on the understanding of the actions and reactions of said characters, other elements don’t fall by the wayside per se but are allowed to soften their edges to draw focus where necessary. The cinematography by Bjorn Charpentier (Mixed Kebab, Over Water) lingers on most images while progressing in an almost unnoticeable direction. Whether that’s dollying in or pulling out, it pairs well with the stark emptiness of the surroundings to hone in on each scene’s subtext.
Pacing and editing are some of the parts that didn’t receive as much attention as they should have. Though the camerawork is solid, shots and scenes have a tendency to overstay their welcome by seconds. That may not sound like much, but when the end result runs ~106 minutes long, it adds up. Along with the underdeveloped plot ideas, Blood has no need to run longer than 100 minutes.
Blood, ironically enough, bleeds out before it reaches a conclusion of any sort. Though Anderson and company achieve most of their goals, the film is maddeningly decent by its end when considering the promise of the start.
Vertical Entertainment has released Blood to Digital platforms.