A drug addict re-locates to a cabin in the mountains to try and get off the drugs, before long he starts experiencing intense hallucinations.
It’s official. I think I’ve experienced another first – well, sort of. In my brief, but (some would say) productive reviewing career, I’ve encountered many bad films, many great films, and many so-so films.
But this marks only the second time that I can recall, where a not-so-good film somehow turned into a great film.
The first one was a flick called The Ladies of the House from a couple of years ago (here’s the review). The first 15-20 minutes of the piece were quite painful, and I was all set to attend that movie’s hanging. But then it suddenly shifted gears and it became a very memorable, very strong piece with amazing characters and marvelous dialogue. But that was after that first 15 minutes of drag and empty promise.
The second film – whose review you’re currently reading – is the festival darling, Dry Blood. This one takes the cake – because almost the entire first hour is something you truly must drudge through (details on why will follow). But then the final 20 minutes hit, and you will be not only impressed, but disturbed and surprised by the immense change in pacing, acting and raw power.
Frankly, it’s as if director Kelton Jones (who also acts and produces here) shot the first hour of the film – took a 2-year hiatus to attend film school and then took on the film’s climax. It’s that different.
Dry Blood’s screenwriter Clint Carney stars as Brian Barnes – a hopeless addict and drunk who finds solace in a cabin he owns with his now ex-wife. He’s gone there multiple times to dry out – in an attempt to find sobriety. He invites his friend Anna (Jaymie Valentine) to help him through this difficult time. And all the while, a local sheriff (Kelton Jones) keeps nosing around. In the midst of his (almost) cold turkey, his withdrawal leads to some frightening hallucinations and potential violence.
There’s something a little Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance in Clint Carney’s performance. Carney’s not Jack Nicholson by any stretch, and in that first hour some of his choices are good and some not-so-good, but like that insanely good climax as a whole – those final 20 minutes are where Carney really shines. His mania in these final moments is nothing short of terrifying and perhaps out-of-body. And one particular sequence in an upstairs closet of the cabin – is absolutely chilling and unforgettable.
Now. This may be up for debate. Was the supporting performance from Jaymie Valentine meant to be as terrible as it seems? Based on the reveal at the film’s conclusion, was that monotone and awful dialogue delivery part of the filmmakers’ master plan? One can’t be sure without asking said filmmakers, but on the surface, Valentine’s performance was nothing short of painful. And I frankly don’t understand the use of the (there’s no denying it) awful wig. Perhaps I missed something, but the wig was a constant distraction throughout. All the while I’m waiting to see if it’s some sort of plot point for this wig – but alas, it never came. I don’t get it. Had a better actress been cast in the role of Anna – a few more upticks in my scoring might have been in order. She really drags the piece down.
Dry Blood is a prime example of a feature film which could have easily been cut into a short. With that meandering and lackluster first hour, how much could have been trimmed – losing nothing of importance in the story? I’ll say it. A lot. There are pacing issues and some scenes/shots seem to be held far too long (the bathroom crying scene is a good example). It sucks though, as immediately after that overlong sequence, the film takes off and doesn’t let up until the end. The deer-head? Amazing!
The make-up and gore effects are on par with the work we see from KNB FX every single week on The Walking Dead. No, Dry Blood isn’t a zombie film, but some of the violent acts (particularly a gun-shot to the face) contain some of the most brutal and disgusting (read: WOW) gore work I’ve seen in recent years. Seriously, the moment this shotgun scene concluded, my husband and I practically cheered!
All throughout, I liked most of the camera-work. One particular sweeping shot which takes us through the first level of the house and to the bottom of the stairs – ending with the second story bathroom’s light flicking on – was an easy highlight. And an early drug-induced segment fleetingly reminded me of the chaotic cinematography of Raimi’s Evil Dead films.
I liked the location for the most part – and there’s a definite sense of isolation… that is until you see how close the other cabin homes are to Brian’s. But the community felt appropriately uninhabited (it’s a winter resort kind of place in the middle of the summer). It think a better attempt to hide the proximity of the neighboring homes would have been a good call.
I was absolutely not a fan of the score from System Syn. It never felt like it was in the right film and often-times it was just plain distracting.
And it was fun to see Blumhouse’s Rob Galluzzo in a cameo as the local shop-keeper!
Now… let’s get down to scoring the piece. That first hour was a chore. I already had it in my mind that a solid average score of 2.5 stars would be appropriate. But the intensity and master work of the climax forces me to bring that 2.5 up to 3.5. Yes, an entire point upgrade for just the climax! Think of how much higher the score would have been, had the rest of the film lived up to the brilliance of those last 20 minutes!
Dry Blood won’t be easy. But trust me… put on your big boy or big girl pants, grin it, bear it and make your way through to the third act. Totally worth it once you get there.
With several call-outs to Kubrick’s The Shining, a decent lead performance from Carney and one of the biggest and best comebacks of any (initially) not-so-great film – Dry Blood should be placed on your list!
No news yet on DVD or VOD distribution, but keep your eyes peeled!