BLOOD MONEY (2016)
Directed by Luke White
In many ways the aftermath of a robbery’s more interesting than the event itself- and certainly easier on the budget. This is when bonds get broken, friends become enemies and anyone unprepared has to deal with what they’ve done. So goes director Luke White’s angle in his rural France set feature debut, where he delivers a paranoia thriller by way of home invasion. The result is a mixed bag that gives him a calling card as a technician, though suggests he needs to concentrate more on structure.
Following a very vague art heist, five friends rest low in a vast, and supposedly deserted, holiday home to await for their buyer. Among them we have the squabbling Reese (Barbieri) and Sean (Bourne), both of them’s potential love interest Kasey (Clayton), the out his depth Zander (Chambers) and estranged daughter to the house’s owner Mia (Hansen). However, things haven’t gone as planned, and thief number six Louie is needing put in the ground after being shot. Unfortunately for the survivors, their problems are just beginning. Things take a turn for the worse when the body goes missing. Tensions start to boil, and with a mysterious figure being seen upstairs, talk of a paranormal force in the area and the police after them it’s going to be a hell of a night. Or at least it should be. Even if it leaves a lot to the imagination, they setup is an engaging one, with an enjoyable mystery being buried somewhere. The trouble is that for too long the script fails to capitalise on it, with much of the dialogue focusing on the wrong parts of the premise.
At first nobody seems particularly fussed about the death of Louie, being more interested in drinking vodka straight and debating who’s shagging who. This is a glaring omission in a character piece, with a chance for pathos being missed and the ensuing mystery not getting the gravity it ought to. Similarly, there’s little sense of a first act, with the group’s bond never being characterised as especially deep. As such, when the friction goes to ten there’s very little feeling of loss or a normality going disrupted. The backing story is also unclear, meaning we rarely get a feel for who did what and why they took said risk beyond ‘I needed the money’. Much of this could have been solved with an extra ten minutes or so to lay the character groundwork – at less than 80, this would not have dragged the film out. It doesn’t help that the young cast are not especially adept at conveying their characters internal lives that go seldom explored by dialogue. Barbieri is the exception. Since his time on Skins he’s always been one to watch, and here gives a compelling and intense performance as man trying to keep it together under immense pressure. The others range from good (Clayton and and Chambers) to poor, meaning the film struggles to gain emotional stakes.
The scary side is stronger, with White making the most of his unnerving setting. There’s a heavy atmosphere, great shots and a stellar soundtrack. The violent scenes, when they come, are also very well done: brutal yet minimalist. Thus as a technical achievement Blood Money is easily the equal of bigger budget movies. Problem is, this element also gets downplayed. The thought of a stranger being in the house ought to be terrifying, yet hardly gets mentioned, with the chief source of fear coming from within the group. This narrative choice is fine. But with nobody also being scared that someone may be in the house, it dampens a potential source of dread before it builds. Furthermore, the scenes where the film flirts with the supernatural are intriguing, bringing in some interesting possibilities. But again, these possibilities are ultimately not done justice, being dismissed shortly after they’re raised. Consequently we’re left with an uneven character drama that eventually transitions into a disjointed horror.
As a critic I don’t like rubbishing low budget films by first time feature directors and first time feature writers. Aside from the labours of love that go into their work, they’re also fighting a war just to get it off the ground and a series of constraints once it does. Yet ultimately it has to come down to a question of if it’s worth the investment viewers put into it. To be fair to Blood Money, I was never bored of it and by the end I felt more than satisfied. But its amateur feel, and disorganised plotting, made me wish I was seeing the same team coming at it in a few years time.