[Review] 'Blood Moon' is a Rustic Werewolf Flick that Stands Out Amongst the Pack in Hulu's 'Into the Dark' Series
Having been an only child raised by a single mother, I have a special affinity for media that uses that relationship to tell its story...
...As a kid, movies like Terminator 2 and Aliens (yes, I know, Hicks and the nuclear family but let’s be real, it was primarily about Ripley and Newt) hit different. There was this bittersweet knowing about the push, pull, and depth of that dynamic. Infuse that relationship with a soupçon of horror and sci-fi and you’ve hit my sweet spot. It’s in that sweet spot that writers Adam Mason and Simon Boyes and director Emma Tammi (The Wind) seem to have taken their aim in Blood Moon, the latest installment in Blumhouse Television and Hulu’s Into the Dark anthology.
Blood Moon follows single mother Esme (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and her 10-year-old son Luna (Yonas Kibreab) on the run in the wake of a mysterious and violent event. The pair arrive in a dusty mountain town with Esme’s eye on a secluded ranch house with particular interest paid to the basement.
It quickly becomes clear the pair are attached at the hip and living moment to moment as Esme shuttles Luna through their new town, making unusually large purchases at a local hardware supply store and sketchy first impressions on local law enforcement. Esme applies lipstick in her truck’s rear-view mirror as she instructs Luna not to leave the car and not to talk to strangers, a seemingly familiar script for the two that lets us know there’s history here. This is how they live.
Esme meets Sam (Joshua Dov), the local bar owner and reason for the hasty lipstick application and with grin-inducing directness talks herself into a waitressing job with the only stipulation being that she receives the 21st of every month off. A date portentously marked with a red circle on her calendar.
The hardware order arrives, hand-delivered by Miguel (Marco Rodriguez), the shop owner, but rent, a child, and having only become employed two days prior find Esme strapped for cash. But as the 21st approaches and the chicken coop she told Miguel she was building starts to look more like a cage in a basement it’s clear that money might be the lesser of her problems. A 10-year-old lycanthrope, for instance, might just trump an outstanding bill.
As the pair settle into their new routine and the relationships they’ve cultivated, both positive and negative, deepen, their secret becomes harder and more dangerous to conceal. Luna’s need to be a child puts a strain on Esme’s need to protect him and, expectedly, things boil over.
While this may dip a toe into spoiler-y waters it's worth noting that Blood Moon's narrative manages to sidestep some of the great pitfalls of the single-mother-only-child-on-the-run archetype. Nearly everything is justified. The film asks us to take very few leaps, almost none of them steep. A real service to a stripped-down horror outing that relies heavily on its central mother/child dynamic. Blood Moon does what few films with that dynamic do, it keeps it about that relationship. Things, while complicated enough, don't become overly complicated to the point where the screenwriters are having to do ever-increasingly dexterous things in order to keep all of the additional plates balanced and spinning.
Another socially and politically timely choice of note is having law enforcement stand in as a primary source of antagonism. In an early scene, Esme is working a rowdy Friday night crowd at Sam’s when a particularly lecherous patron makes inappropriate overtures, suggesting she sit next to him after she brings the next round. She suggests something shockingly violent in response, a move that might have had us cheering were it not for the swift reveal that the man is the sheriff. A later reprisal comes in the form of a nail-biting late-night traffic stop scene where the audience is confronted with the terror of being a woman of color, alone, on the side of the road at the mercy of predatory law enforcement. It was a blistering two minutes that, for my money, rivals any scene of horror one might conjure up in a werewolf film.
While the narrative and solid performances from Echikunwoke and Kibreab anchor the film, the score and aesthetic gild the edges. Composer Jay Wadley (The OA, I’m Thinking of Ending Things) uses soft melancholic guitar that recalls the best of Gustavo Santaolalla’s The Last of Us score to set a dusty and contemplative western tone.
Anyone familiar with Tammi’s critically lauded feature debut The Wind knows that she has an eye and a feel for rustic, even austere aesthetics. That eye is solidified by the western clapboard and windswept look and feel of Blood Moon. The town and the houses seem wind and sand-beaten, tired and storied, an apt reflection of Esme’s spirit and the endless cycle their secret forces them to live out.
Having reviewed a few and watched most of Into the Dark’s entries, Blood Moon easily stands out as one of the best of the pack. Strong performances and a commitment to tone brand this dog, nay, wolf, worth giving a home. Highly recommend.
Into the Dark: Blood Moon premieres on Hulu on March 26th.
By Paul Bauer
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