Friday, June 26, 2015

Strange Blood – review

Director: Chad Michael Ward

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

The vampire created by science, it’s a nice route to tread at times. It makes me think back to the vampire bat and deranged experiments involving blood as well as hypnosis and village hysteria. None of which you’ll really find here. Ok, you will find deranged experiments…

It is a film on a budget and it does try to rise above that, yet I was left with some doubts around the plot and a lack of belief in the characters (despite the actors’ best efforts), which all in all left me a tad underwhelmed.

police interrogation
The film begins with the wreckage following a fire. A hard drive is found amongst the debris. In a room (which looked less like a police interview room and more like the dingy warehouse reserved for interrogations by B movie villains) a cop (James Adam Lim) interviews Gemma (Alexandra Bard). She’s not under caution but the cops have found twelve bodies and all paths seem to lead back to Dr Henry Moorhouse (Robert Brettenaugh). Gemma, having been threatened by the cop, tells their story.

Henry and Ella
Gemma starts a job as Henry’s assistant. He was a scientist with a pharmaceutical company (Baxters) but was dismissed due to emotional instabilities. He reveals to Gemma that he took with him Ella. Ella is a genetically created living tissue mass, non-sentient (apparently), that he bred to be able to infect with everything (essentially) and through some mumbo jumbo of pseudo-science back engineer a retrovirus that will be the cure for everything – from the common cold, through cancer to HIV/AIDS. Ella is maturing at a rate that he did not expect.

They begin to introduce pathogens to Ella and it seems to go wrong at first but then she stabilises. However when he tries to extract some lymph fluid she spikes him, injecting his hand with quills that stick him in, the rest retracting back into her mass. He assumes it to be a completely unexpected defence mechanism that has evolved and is even more shocked when she develops hard masses and fluids. Gemma wonders if it is a sign – that humans are meant to become sick, grow old and die. We see that Henry is haunted by the figure of a child (Thomas O'Halloran) and later we hear that it was his son who died of a strain on meningitis. His now ex-wife somehow blamed Henry (and given his ‘haunting’ he also blames himself).

downward spiral
Gemma and Henry go to a diner – already Henry is craving very raw burgers. Gemma needs to leave to visit her father and we later discover that he has Parkinson’s and early onset dementia. Henry’s behaviour becomes odder and odder and here we get an issue with the film. Whilst Brettenaugh displays a man sinking into madness well he has little to work with. The plot becomes secondary to the visual displaying of this downward spiral. We do discover that the spines were not defensive, they were genitalia and Henry has been infected with Ella’s offspring.

It eventually comes around that the (now shaven headed) doctor has been “cured”. He is filled with parasites and he must drink blood to feed them so they don’t consume him. He describes it as being a prisoner in his own body as it now belongs to them. Ella seems to be communicating with him but that might just be his madness. The way he treats Gemma is awful, with violent mood swings and taunts as she is “just a girl” and has confessed that during high school she ended up in rehab. Yet she then strips her pants to let him extract blood from her leg (not realising he’ll drink it), jumps into bed with him (and he gives no thought as to whether these parasites are in his sexual secretions) and gets bitten savagely by him. Yet later she still comes back to his lab! I didn’t buy the relationship at all.

blood spattered professor
He also goes out hunting girls – we see one such encounter and he manages to pick up a girl in a bar by looking at her for just a moment and taking her off for sex in the toilet (it appears). The fact that she went off with this hooded, creepy bloke with dirt encrusted teeth was a real push at credulity. Perhaps if they had suggested that he was able to release powerful pheromones, but they didn’t. The fact that he then killed her in the toilet and managed to leave, covered in blood, and get home left a sour “bad plotting” taste in the mouth.

self mutilation
The other problem was it was the only hunt (bar him killing a PI (Scott Harders) who was working for Henry's erstwhile employers and who came into his home) that we see. We get a flash of dead bloodied women but by missing the hunting of these women (or at least some of them) the filmmakers have missed what might have been the point of the film – horror. Yes, the decent into madness was worth capturing but it shouldn’t have been the only real facet of the film. In fact I wonder how the police tied the killings to him – this was set up at the head of the film but not followed through. As for his vampirism, well he might regenerate - at one point he apparently ripped his own tongue out (or so it appeared) but was able to speak normally thereafter. The only other lore we get, by the way, is apparently sunlight is an issue – but in a blinding way rather than him burning and that might simply be because he was hiding away in his windowless home.

As I say, the two leads bravely did what they could with what they had. Ella looked suitably icky and mad sciencey but perhaps was underused as well (maybe they could have introduced a voice for her rather than just the insect like buzzing that Henry answered – they could have still maintained the “is there communication or is he mad” aspect). This needed something more – and at least part of that was more vampire action. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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