Saturday, January 11, 2020

Sacred Blood – review

Director: Christopher Coppola

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

Christopher Coppola is no stranger to the vampire genre, directing the 1988 film Dracula’s Widow. This film suffers for lack of budget and some spotty performances but makes up for it in vision and a sense of hankering back to Italian horror of yore.

I felt the narrative could be tightened up also, but I’ll cover that as we go along and so, after the opening credits, we see images of the ocean, hear a storm until the scene calms into the safe haven of San Francisco harbour.

Natia arrives
Out from under the Harbour sign walks a woman; pale, pained and almost ill looking – Natia (Anna Luca Biani). As she walks past the window of a coffee shop/art gallery she is seen by resident struggling artist Luke (Bailey Coppola) who chases after her and then follows her on his pushbike until eventually losing her. Elsewhere a woman called Lilly (Bai Ling, The Breed, Three Extremes & Dumplings) is in an eatery when she too spots Natia.

Lily and Natia
She also follows her, but keeps much closer than Luke did. When Natia confronts her, Lilly reveals that she knows what she is, suggests that Chinatown is her turf and she won’t be so nice if Natia returns. However, the girl seems vulnerable, new to being the vampire that Lilly recognises, and so Lilly then offers her pointers for money. Natia has none and Lilly suggests she attend to some business with her. They go to a bar where a business man (Steven Wiig) drinks alone. Lilly takes the casually racist man back to a room – with Natia – where it soon descends to a feed.

What struck me here was the use of off-kilter camera work – especially when Lilly and Natia meet, which had a nice feel but was perhaps sparingly used through the full film. Also the lighting/filters in Lilly’s room was highly effective, giving a Eurohorror, perhaps more specifically an Italian feel. When Natia attacks she sounds and looks feral, a sense we don’t get from Lilly who feels under control.

circus act
The film then moves to the country of Georgia and we get a little of Natia’s past – however I felt the narrative structure failed to distinguish the geography and the time-gap as well as it might. This is perhaps amplified by Anna Luca Biani whose Natia feels like a different person in these scenes, a fact that speaks highly of their acting ability but doesn’t help the narrative. Natia is running the family circus and performing as a sharp shooter but the circus is failing. In desperation she gives a job to Sasha (Konstantin Kryukov, Vurdalaki), a dog trainer with a single dog.

What we then get is, in flashback, a backstory of a family in crisis – the father is an alcoholic after the death of the mother in an accident. This has a nice symmetry with a primary storyline as I’ll mention but, symmetry aside, adds little to the primary narrative. Sasha is a vampire and his dog is too – able to jump unnaturally high. He is on the verge of turning Natia’s sister, Dedika (Natalia Diasamibze), when Natia bursts in with a gun and the dog, protectively, bites her. Natia turns, her sister does not but the Georgia story ends there with Natia fleeing to protect her family.

Michael Madsen A bRENNAN
In the States we discover that Luke followed her as he was inspired to paint her portrait and, of course, they fall in love. Natia manages to slaughter a pimp and his brother (plus heavies) so that she can both protect some prostitutes and get money (to send home). She also slaughters a couple of muggers. The mayhem brings her to the attention of detective Brennan (Michael Madsen, the Bleeding, Vampires Anonymous, 42, the Tomb & Bloodrayne) – Luke’s alcoholic father who turned to the bottle after his wife developed dementia and who is disconnected from his son, not understanding his desire to be an artist. This is the symmetry I mentioned.

Rob Nilsson as Ruthven
She also comes to the attention of the top vampire, Ruthven (Rob Nilsson), who insists she works for him. There is an odd moment that suggests a psychic attack when she resists but is not spelt out and Ruthven (pronounced incorrectly, as normally happens to be fair) is apparently Scottish (he’s lost his accent) and obsessed with wine making. This then leads to the film’s tagline “From the Vine to the Vein”, which is not explored in any meaningful way but a vampire’s obsession with wine does riff nicely on “I do not drink… wine”.

Bailey Coppola as Luke
There are issues as this becomes a mood and character piece (which are the strength of the film) but doesn’t quite pick up on any horror (despite the feral growling and butchering of villains) and the storylines fail in the main to go anywhere. That is not true of the central romance but the police investigation and the winery (even the circus to a great degree) just feel like they are hanging. The acting seems uneven. I mentioned Anna Luca Biani being very different before and after turning and Bailey Coppola is great in the role. Madsen and Bai Ling have their moments, as one would absolutely expect, but much of the supporting cast are less impressive and I thought Nilsson miscast.

The action, I think, is lost in budget and more could have been done around the gore (the first feed is impressive due to filters/lighting but perhaps other attacks are lacking). I did think the guns sound lost and hollow in the soundscape and whilst we know shooting at a vampire will have no impact it will impact the clothes at least. The character studies/mood could have been a massive plus to a strong narrative, but the narrative needed tightening up. Yet it isn’t all bad, far from it – aspects like the symmetry between Bailey and Natia worked well, the mood was there and there were good performances and the visual atmosphere worked. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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