Familiar Familial Horror Blood (2023) Draws a Steady Pulse
First Non-Festival Release: January 12, 2023 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Brad Anderson
Writer: Will Honley
Runtime: 108 Minutes
Starring: Michelle Monaghan, Skeet Ulrich, Finlay Wotjak-Hissong
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
What would you do to keep your child safe? This is a question that is hopefully on the minds of every parent. How far would they go to keep their kid alive if they knew the consequences meant harming someone else even more? This is the more difficult question posed by Blood.
Jess (Michelle Monaghan) is a mother struggling from the fallout of her divorce with Patrick (Skeet Ulrich). After sobering up and proving to the courts she can handle responsibility, Jess is given temporary full custody of their children Owen (Finlay Wotjak-Hissong) and Tyler (Skylar Morgan Jones) while the parents trudge through the divorce. One night, under her care Owen is bitten by their missing dog and is sent to the hospital. The joy of saving him from a near-death experience is dampened by his newfound taste for human blood.
While technically sound, Blood lacks the gravitas to differentiate itself from similarly themed horror films.
With a setup like this, Blood plays out exactly how one might suspect it does. Once Owen falls victim to the transmitted infection from his dog, the film goes down the same path viewers have seen time and again with a film that promises how far a mother will go to save her child. Horrified at what she must do, Jess forces herself to gradually commit terrible things to keep Owen alive. Despite her best efforts, Owen’s ailment only increases in voracity.
The overall message is quite simple: the act of protecting one’s child from the dangers of the world and the consequences of their actions is literally bleeds a parent dry. This straightforward metaphor lacks punch given how stale the concept has gotten. Blood doesn’t even try and add anything new to the cannon but that doesn’t mean it is entirely for nothing. Its twisted second act arc makes for some compelling character moments between Jess and another person trapped in her scrambling to keep Owen alive.
Despite its obvious story, Blood does have a way of dripping tension in the most satisfying manners. As Jess makes continual bad decision after another, it is hard not to anticipate her capture. Blood doesn’t make things easy for Jess, as Owen’s need for sustenance grows unquenchable quickly. Her sloppiness and willingness to do whatever it takes to keep him alive lead to some tough decisions and terrible consequences for those around her. Not only is Blood successful in drawing out the tension, but it also has a few good scares up its sleeves. One sequence involving a close call with a dangerous portion of the home is recalled in a heartbreakingly vicious moment near the beginning of the film’s third act. The subtle telegraphing and subsequent sucker punch makes for an emotional hit to the viewers.
Strong performances are what truly anchor Blood down to its generic premise. Michelle Monaghan puts in work to make Jess a truly relatable and compelling protagonist. Jess is complicated. Her struggles with addiction make it easy to paint her erratic behavior as proof that she will slip into old habits, rather than doing what she knows will save her son. Monaghan gives Jess a steeliness that is apt for a person in recovery who also happens to be a kickass nurse. Her veneer falls when the true toll of saving Owen means potentially losing herself and her daughter Tyler.
Though Monaghan does dominate the screen, the remaining cast members hold their own. An unexpectedly rousing performance by June B. Wilde helps support the bulk of the emotional work that Jess needs to unpack for the sake of Owen. Helen is a wonderful character that Wilde does right by throughout the film. Skylar Morgan Jones and Skeet Ulrich round out the cast with two solid performances as well. Neither gets the screentime of Monaghan, so the opportunities to shine are limited.
While Blood doesn’t differentiate itself from similarly themed films, it remains a solid examination on the relationship between mothers and their children. Its morality driven plot and strong performances make it a fine piece of introspective horror drama. Fans of familial horror and those more inclined to grounded takes on supernatural horror will find plenty to sink their teeth into with Blood. Caution: after checking out this little indie film, you might find yourself rabid for more.
Overall Score? 6/10