Directed by Tricia Lee
Having made a name for herself in horror, with the festival-award winning efforts Silent Retreat and Clean Break, Canadian director Tricia Lee is back. This time it’s with an unusual little scary, sci-fi Blood Hunters (aka One Drop). With very modest funds she’s managed to make a satisfying genre splice that also happens to be one of the most cliché-free films of the year so far.
Ellie (Gilchrist) is a single parent dealing with the twin pressures of motherhood and hard drug addiction. But things get even worse when she wakes up in a strange lab with a dead body by her bed and a mysterious, plus very big, bun in the oven. Searching the facility, among the corpses and upturned equipment, she finds fellow-patient Henry (Arthur): a man tormented by flashbacks of other people’s lives including her own. The diverse gang are completed by haunted technician Marion (Higginson), one handed intern George (Taylor) and unhinged priest Father Stewart (Richings). Together they face a horde of strange creatures that have escaped their cages to raise hell round the base, and are kept from civilization by a single security door.
Judge a book not by its cover, nor a movie by its poster and trailer. Whilst the adverts for Blood Hunters likely conjure up images of a grizzly, fast-paced survival horror, watching something like Resident Evil with aliens, it’s a very different, and more substantial, beast. For a start there’s tension by the bucketload. This is helped by a wonderfully realised location that, though presumably miniscule in real life, has labyrinthine qualities. There’s also some excellent gore and effects, which certainly give the impression of a much higher budget. This includes some nasty blood and maybe the most realistic wound cauterising scene I can think of, which will have even the most hardened viewers watching through their fingers.
The script is also excellent; each character is instantly rounded and made relatable despite, refreshingly, being a bit of an asshole. They argue like real people and, save for the slightly cartoonish clergyman, approach their increasingly unpleasant situations as real people would. Each actor is authentic and helps to sell even the more fantastical elements towards the end. I really want to tell as little as possible about where the story goes, since as its heart the film is a mystery. Except I don’t mind saying it’ll repeatedly surprise you. The third act takes a gamble, going into more spiritual territory than can be reasonably expected of a creature feature, and when we find out the hunters’ origins it’s unlike any other. The surprises continue up until a very emotional, and brave, finale that’s equally sad and affirming. If not especially scary.
You see, despite being highly adept at creating, and sustaining, suspense, Blood Hunters is not so good at providing a horrific payoff. What few action scenes there are lack any real sense of urgency. This is due to a mixture of monsters which simply aren’t big or brutal enough to be physically imposing, a soundtrack that seems to do all moods except danger and also some questionable staging. For instance, in some scenes a single hunter takes on multiple survivors. But as it attacks each one the other cast don’t seem especially bothered. Granted, they’re usually doing something else. Yet it cheapens the no way out scenario by suggesting the consequences of staying in aren’t all that bad. The amount of these hunters is never made clear until the end. And given the apocalyptic images painted up in dialogue, of a small army that can’t get out, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed by less than two handfuls of them. Nonetheless, the foreboding atmosphere and emotional stakes that have been built up so well elsewhere mean the denouement still packs a punch. That a monster movie can work so well despite its monster is something I never thought I’d say. But then, if you haven’t gotten it by now, this is a subversive piece.