[Panic Fest 2021 Review] Timely and Vicious, 'Blood Conscious' Confronts the Demons in Our Own Back Yard
Most long-time horror hounds have probably imagined what it might be like to spend a weekend camping in the woods or shacked up in a cabin with friends or a lover and wondered how they might react were an axe-wielding madman to show up, cutting everyone in his path down...
...Would they run? Would they fight? Chances are we haven’t considered what we’d do if we showed up and the bloodbath had already occurred.
Writer/Director Timothy Covell explores this concept in his feature debut Blood Conscious which just played at Panic Fest 2021. College student Kevin (Oghenero Gbaje), his older sister Brittney (DeShawn White), and her boyfriend Tony (Lenny Thomas) drive up from the city to Kevin and Brittney’s parents’ cabin for a long family weekend. When the trio arrive they find the place unsettlingly quiet, mugs of tea left steeping on counters and the wind carrying their unanswered hellos through the changing leaves.
Things take an explosive turn when Kevin wanders down to the waterfront and discovers several people, his parents included, riddled with bullet holes and laying in pools of their own blood. As Brittney and Tony happen upon the scene the shooter (Nick Damici) appears, asking, “Are you humans, or are you demons?”
“We’re on vacation,” Tony replies.
Things go from weird to weirder as the shooter reveals to the trio that he’s in the business of killing demons. Demons that look like people. Demons that look like friends, family, spouses. Kevin, Brittney, and Tony eventually manage to turn the tables on the shooter and trap him in the cabin’s cellar. Soon, tensions between the three boil over and their paranoia begins to get the better of them as increasingly bizarre goings on force them to question just how crazy the shooter’s story actually is.
Without wading into spoiler territory, it’s worth mentioning that the latter half of the film does grapple with socio-political themes regarding race and power dynamics as all three of our heroes are people of color. While it doesn’t take the foreground, it does feel like a timely inclusion for Western audiences living in 2021. While its use of cultural trauma and dissection of such issues isn’t as clear and pointed as in a film like Get Out or the recent anthology series Them, it still makes a case for horror being a powerful medium through which to engage in these types of conversations.
Covell also seems to make it a point to keep the relationships and family dynamics at the heart of the film, expending less screen time to establish its watery lore and “rules”. Greater care is taken to focus on the family and their cycle of fear, disbelief, and action.
Interestingly enough, this doesn’t come at the expense of the chills. Tight pacing, excellent camera work, and an utterly hair-raising score from Sam Tyndall and Akari Uchiyama keep even the quieter moments from ever feeling safe. Seriously, I couldn’t possibly understate the work the music puts in from before even the first frame flickers across the screen. It's on par with Joseph Bishara’s opening brass bleats from The Conjuring, instant chills.
A mildly muddy ending and the aforementioned watery lore keep Blood Conscious from transcending the trappings of the ‘promising debut’. And it is just that, a promising debut. Covell has all the promise of an auteur in the making. The concept and approach kept me constantly guessing, and while I wasn’t always dazzled by where it took me, the fact that it felt fresh and unexplored was enough for me to give props where they’re due.
While it may air more on the side of thriller than a hardened gore hound might care for, Blood still proves a nasty and socially conscious piece of work. It’s a welcome departure from the current crop of horror outings on the menu and a sign of better things to come from Covell and co.
By Paul Bauer