Film Review: Blood River

3 May

*****

Out of the shadows it came once more, 12 months since its last appearance, facing the assembled denizens in Screen One of Edinburgh’s Filmhouse who had travelled from far and wide to witness its depravity: Dead by Dawn 2009, Scotland’s premier horror film festival, launched once more on Thursday night, unleashing opening film, Blood River (2009), on the world.

From its first scenes, wherein an impossibly cute all-American couple, Clark (Ian Duncan) and his pregnant wife Summer (Tess Panzer), make their way across an impossibly deserted stretch of Nevada highway to an impossibly run down motel, it’s obvious Blood River is happy to play with established horror movie imagery.

Similarly, as the couple refuse to stop their car to pick up dishevelled, yet apparently heat-resistant, hitchhiker, Joseph (Andrew Howard), we can be pretty sure their decision is going to come back to haunt them.

While the audience waits for something to kick-start the action, writer-director Adam Mason offering impressive ariel shots of the parched Nevada landscape to hammer home the fact that it’s more than a bit hot out there, Joseph is given some intriguing screen time as he makes friends at the motel. Surprisingly, Joseph appears to be a bit of bloodthirsty maniac, and it’s surely only a matter of time before he crosses paths with our heroes.

It’s here, as the couple find themselves needing help in the town of Blood River only to be rescued by Joseph, that the plot begins to show signs of having some originality, the preconceptions of the first 25 minutes beginning to look increasingly uncertain.

Cleverly, as the three characters get to know each other better, the viewer starts to understand them less, question marks hanging over motives and comments made as they are forced into situations that are appear to have no easy solution.

Themes of redemption hang heavy in the air of Blood River. Secrets bubble under the surface, hinted at at first, then given more prominence as events unfold.

To say much more about the events of the last third of the film would be to spoil it, but it’s an intriguing concept that is generally well handled by both cast and director.

As Joseph, Andrew Howard is both menacing and a breath of fresh air, his relaxed attitude at odds with Clark’s straight-laced demeanour. Ian Duncan bounces well of Howard, and their scenes together as they discuss city life are some of the highlights of the film.

Panzer has the less rewarding role here, too often given unconvincing lines to spout as Summer sides with the new arrival.

What prevents Blood River becoming a low budget gem is the feeling that the writers’ fell in love just a little too much with Joseph’s speeches and their own high concept ideas. Joseph’s love of biblical-style language may be one of his traits, but this is overdone towards the end of the film, reams of dialogue given to him when simplicity would have sufficed.

The need for judicious editing extends to the final 20 minutes, stretched to breaking point as the writers, clearly delighted with themselves and their ideas, feel the need to make sure every point is made again and again. And again.

Though let down by its protracted ending, Blood River still has enough style, wit and tension to make it a genuinely thrilling experience.

Watch the Blood River trailer:

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