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Black Bags (2023) Review

Anyone who has taken a long trip by bus knows just what an odd experience it can be. Stuck in close quarters with strangers, sometimes for days. Depending on whom those strangers are, it can be either fun or absolute hell. Black Bags, the new thriller from director Josh Brandon (A Thousand Little Cuts, Alexa) and writers Angela Bourassa (If You Were the Last, A Little Distracted) and Adam Pachter, finds a new way to make it hell even after your trip is over.

Tess (Olesya Rulin, High School Musical, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary) is having a troubled pregnancy, so troubled she’s taking experimental meds every four hours to try and see it to term. Presumably, it’s also causing her blackouts, which is why she’s taking the bus back from the doctor rather than driving.

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On the bus, she meets Sarah (Laura Vandervoort, See For Me, Bitten) who sits next to her despite the bus being mostly empty. They make small talk during the trip and then, to her surprise, Sarah turns up at her house. It seems they got each other’s bags when the bus stopped. This is a problem because Sarah’s bag doesn’t have her pills in it, but it does contain… Actually, even though it’s shown clearly enough in the trailer that anyone who has seen a thriller or horror film will instantly know what it is, I’m apparently not allowed to say what it contains. But it is nasty, bloody and fits in a suitcase.

Black Bags sets up its premise quickly and efficiently, introducing the film’s two leads, it’s only two actual characters for that matter, and the initial conflict, smoothly. And yes I said the initial conflict, this film starts with the discovery of the unmentionable item in the suitcase and gets more complicated from there.

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Sarah, who we’re made aware wears gloves at all times, blackmails Tess into helping her dispose of the head. Because of those gloves, it’s Tess’s prints they’ll find on the suitcase. And in case that doesn’t convince her, Sarah kept the pills she needs. Between the two, she doesn’t have many options but to help her.

Much of the mystery comes from the way the script makes our feelings towards characters shift as the story’s layers are revealed. Granted, it’s hard to feel too sympathetic for somebody who was going to pin a murder on a stranger. And then threatens to make a woman miscarry if she doesn’t help her cover said murder up. But the script at least tries to shade Tess’ actions and give them some justification. And there are two ways you can look at her actions. As a sign of how desperate her own situation is. Or of her own evil, and hypocritical nature, if you believe her at all.

And by the time the two women are making their way to an abandoned chemical plant that still conveniently has a vat of acid, you’ll be wondering just how much you can believe. Or why she couldn’t simply dump it herself, since there wouldn’t be anything left to get anyone’s prints off of.

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The last act takes another twist, this one a more personal one for Tess, as she deals with some of the plot’s revelations. This was an interesting way to go, considering how many films of just about all genres ignore how the characters are affected by what they just went through. That said, I did find the coda to Black Bags’ plot a little hard to believe. Although that may just be my opinion of human nature showing.

Braced by solid performances from Rulin and Vandervoort, and in small roles, Bruce Davis (Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge, Out of Exile) as Detective Crighton and Pamela Bell (What Josiah Saw, Zombacter: Center City Contagion) as Tess’ mother, Black Bags is an interesting mix of drama and thriller. I know some viewers will have issues with the way the last act goes, but I liked it. It’s different and beats padding the film’s thriller plot and having the film drag.

Vision Films will release Black Bags to VOD and Digital Platforms on April 11th. If you’re looking for more thrills, FilmTagger can suggest some titles.

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