The filmmakers behind IT’S IN THE BLOOD were nice enough to supply Death Ensemble with a screener copy. Phil says, “SEE THIS FILM.” You can catch it at Amazon or on iTunes. But either way, SEE THIS FILM.
I get contacts here and there from horror filmmakers who’d like me to review their film for Death Ensemble. This is actually rather flattering, except for the fact that most of them are junk, poorly made cheapies that offer nothing but one more bland hunk of celluloid to the rotting pile that’s become the genre of late. So when director Scooter Downey and actor Sean Elliot asked if I’d like a screener of IT’S IN THE BLOOD, I didn’t get my hopes up. Sure, it starred dependable horror vet Lance Henriksen, but then so seemingly does every horror film made today. When I sat down to watch the disc, I was nothing short of blown away by the film, a multilayered, psychologically complex tale of two men hunted by one monster from without, and plenty of demons from within.
The film begins with a series of shots: a stick bug at work on a branch; what appears to be a rotting corpse floating in water, a millstone on a necklace in the foreground; gray, foreboding skies over a forest; a man running, straight into a horde of out-of-focus demons. The young man is October, who’s been running from his demons for over a year, and is now returning not only to face them, but to reunite with his father, Russell. The two do their best to bond, and seem to be making headway when, out in the woods, Russell is gravely injured. To make matters worse, the two find themselves hunted by a malevolent, four-legged thing who comes and goes with the fog.
That setup alone, plus Henriksen as Russell, would have sufficed for a decent horror movie. But writers Downey and Elliot take the film so much deeper. In a series of flashbacks, they reveal October’s adopted sister Iris. The two fall in love, a relationship with tragic consequences once the troubled Michael gets involved. An incident occurs that leaves Russell shattered, and October scarred, psychologically and by his own hand physically. There are oceans of troubled water for these two to cross, as they try to deal concurrently with the horrors of the past and those presently in their faces. It’s a complicated tangle of human emotions that Downey and Elliot’s script handles with great aplomb, and real feeling.
I joked in my review of THE HORROR SHOW about Henriksen’s ubiquitous appearances in today’s modern horror flicks. And not without justification; his IMDB page has him listed in roughly 100 moves in the last 10 years. But I’ve never seen Lance act like he does here. This is a career performance. Though he’s always solid, here he owns the role of the tortured Russell, a hard drinking sheriff whose life he compares to the white noise on his television. He lives a hard existence, but there’s a tender side to Russell, which is evident when he teaches October to drive, comparing shifting gears to sexual intercourse, and outright faking an orgasm. It’s a Hell of Fame worthy performance, sad but only because it cuts so close to the truth of humanity.
Kudos to Sean Elliot for matching Lance’s performance measure for measure. Usually when a writer or director of an indie piece ends up on screen, it’s out of vanity and a sign that both the performance and the film are egotistic trash. Not here. October is also tortured; he returns home to try and come to peace not only with the past, but with his father and himself. Elliot sells his pain and inner conflict with raw emotion, crafting a psychologically harrowed character. The relationship between October and Russell is the lynchpin of the film, and if either of their performances had faltered, IT’S IN THE BLOOD would have failed. Fortunately, their interplay couldn’t be any better.
This is also a horror flick, and it succeeds on that end as well. I rarely get scared by films anymore—call it desensitization from watching thousands of them over the years—but IT’S IN THE BLOOD has some chilling stuff. Downey keeps the monster mostly on the edges, blending in with the trees and howling. There’s a bit of spotty CGI here and there, but on the whole, this is a terrifying creature. Seeing things from the monster’s POV is cliché by this point, but Downey finds ways to keep it visually interesting. As for the monster itself, I’ll posit my theory that the thing hunting them is the ugly monster of the past, forcing both men to face it and deal with its horrors so they can move on.
One major problem I have with most of these horror cheapies is their directors have no sense of visual style. Watching so many flicks with Mike Cucinotta, I’ve learned from him all sorts of stuff about color timing and lighting. I’ve also learned that many modern day filmmakers know nothing about either. Not only does Downey know his stuff, but he’s lensed one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen. His color palette is visually captivating, and matches the mood and tone of each scene to sweet perfection. In a field of talentless hacks, he’s a rare talent.
I popped IT’S IN THE BLOOD into my player expecting to find, at best, a competently made horror flick that would ultimately end up disposable entertainment. What I found instead was a great film with excellent writing, stellar acting, intense scares and a flawless visual style. Downey, Elliot and Henriksen defied my expectations, and I’m not only flattered that they wanted me to review of it for Death Ensemble. I’m thankful.