The new horror thriller “Blood” from director Brad Anderson and screenwriter Will Honley puts a wicked new spin on the “a mother will do anything to save her child“ idea. It’s a patient movie that puts a lot of effort into exploring the fractured family dynamic at the center of its story. But it also delivers the frights, mostly in the final act when “Blood” really begins to burrow under our skin.
A very good Michelle Monaghan plays Jess, a recently divorced mother of two who’s in the middle of a nasty child custody battle with her ex-husband Patrick (Skeet Ulrich) who had an affair (and a baby) with their nanny. But we learn Jess had her own problems, namely a serious drug addiction that put a strain on her relationship with Patrick, their daughter Tyler (Skylar Morgan Jones), and their younger son Owen (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong).
But Jess has been clean for 15 months and is looking to rebuild her relationship with Tyler and Owen. She and the kids move into an old farmhouse that belonged to her family much to the chagrin of a frustrated Patrick. The movie spends a lot of time building up the family tension. It shows both Jess and Patrick as flawed, imperfect people, but they’re not monsters. Both love their children very much and want what’s best for them. But divorce can bring out a nasty side in people, especially when emotions are RAW and children are at the center.
One afternoon Tyler, Owen, and the family dog Pippen set out to go fishing. They follow an old trail through the woods only to discover the lake has dried up. In the blackened muddy bed stands a withered cragged old tree that weirdly grabs Pippen’s attention. Later that evening Pippen runs out of the house and back down the trail. When he finally returns days later he has clearly changed (the glowing eyes are a dead giveaway). Pippen viciously attacks Owen, biting him on the neck and forcing Jess to kill the dog.
At the hospital, Owen’s condition deteriorates. But then Jess walks in on her son slurping from a blood pack as his vitals almost immediately improve. Clearly something unusual is going on. When his blood pressure plummets again, Jess (who’s a nurse at the hospital) swipes a bag of plasma from storage and slips it to Owen. He instantly gets better. Jess knows she can’t keep Owen in the hospital so she takes him home to the farm. But when her blood supply runs low, she gets desperate and starts crossing moral lines in an effort to keep her son alive.
Things get more complicated as Jess tries to hide it all from Patrick, and a bit more twisted as Owen’s craving for blood intensifies. It eventually sends the story down some darkly interesting paths. And there’s a hard to miss yet thoughtful metaphorical punch that can really be felt the further the story goes. Not all the character choices make sense, and certain mysteries are just left mysteries. These issues leave you wondering about what could have been if the filmmakers had dug a little deeper in certain places.
Still, the story holds together just fine, with a good chunk of its focus going towards its characters rather than any genre obligations. It’s much more thriller than horror (you won’t find a single jump scare) so adjust your expectations accordingly. But that doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t provide some scares. It just goes about them a little differently. Its pieces may not always fit snugly together, but its human drama and eerie chills proves to be an enjoyable mix. “Blood” is now showing in select theaters and hits VOD on January 31st.