by Hope Madden
Back in 2001, Brad Anderson scared the living shit out of us with the ingenious institutional horror, Session 9. He followed this up with the utterly remarkable The Machinist, and a few years later, the mind-bending thriller, Transsiberian.
Things began to peter out for Anderson as a filmmaker by 2010’s Vanishing on 7th Street, and as he found more success with episodic programming, he more or less stayed there, popping over to film every few years with routinely middling results.
Such is the case with his latest, the supernatural family drama, Blood.
Michelle Monaghan is Jess, a recently sober, recently divorced, harried nurse settling her pre-teen children into their new home, an isolated farmhouse owned by her aunt before she passed. But Pippin, the golden lab, knows something’s wrong out in them woods.
Whatever’s out there ends up in Pippin and then, shortly, in Jess’s 8-year-old, Owen (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong). The obvious tension is amplified by the fact that Jess is desperately afraid to lose custody of her children, so she is loath to admit there’s anything seriously wrong. But things are seriously, seriously wrong with Owen.
Writer Will Honley hits on a topic that was really popular in the genre maybe five years ago (The Hole, The Prodigy, Brahms: The Boy 2, Z, Brightburn ). His updates actually recall slightly older films – Grace (2009), It’s Alive (the 2009 remake), even 1990’s nutty Baby Blood to a degree. What Blood is saying is not original at all, so to make it relevant, Anderson will need to mine Honley’s script for some real relevance.
The family dysfunction and addiction angle could be it. There’s an undercooked metaphor here concerning addiction and heredity. Owen’s bratty behavior buoys the film’s darker qualities, and that business down the basement is especially gruesome (as “down the basement business” so often is). But none of it pans out. In fact, some of it – the least forgettable bits – are forgotten entirely as the film delivers a kind of final grace that is wildly unearned.
Had that moral ambiguity felt intentional the film would have been at least provocative. The fact that it does not is alarming, but not in a way that makes the film more enjoyable.
All the performances are solid. Monaghan and June B. Wilde spar beautifully with each other. Meanwhile, Skeet Ulrich (nice to see you!) and young Skylar Morgan Jones fill out the problematic family well. They just won’t help you remember the movie.