For a while there, you could have argued that vampire films went through a brief period of feeling a tad de-fanged. Not anymore…
…Recently, the vampire genre has come roaring back with vicious bloodsuckers that harken back to the monstrous creatures of old. Films such as Boys from County Hell and Jakob’s Wife have raised vamps with real bite from the dead, and director Peter Thorwarth’s Blood Red Sky now joins that list.
Written by Thornwarth and Stefan Holtz, Blood Red Sky follows Nadja (Peri Baumeister) and her son Elias (Carl Anton Kock), on a transatlantic overnight flight to America where Nadja is meeting a doctor about a mysterious illness. But when a group of terrorists take over the flight, those plans are interrupted, only for Nadja to have to reveal to her son and others a secret which no terrorist could have planned for…Nadja is a vampire, and she is pissed.
Right up front, if you’re expecting Snakes on a Plane style cheese with Samuel L. Jackson type one-liners, this aint it. Blood Red Sky is more Die Hard on a plane with a vampire, but with less focus on the action and more about the tragic relationship between a son and the monster his mother has been hiding from him.
Following an opening which reveals that Elias has survived whatever horrors occurred on the plane after a tense landing in which the military guides another passenger whom they believe is a terrorist, Elias takes us back to the beginning, just before takeoff. Through a charming performance from Koch, we learn that Elias is a smart, capable kid as he checks bags by himself and explains to fellow passenger Farid (Kais Setti) how time zones work. Meanwhile, our first image of Nadja sees her in front of a mirror, bald, putting on a wig and speaking with doctors about an upcoming procedure before she meets Elias at the airport. The whole thing breathes an air of mystery that also shows us what this relationship is like: Nadja isn’t around much, and it has forced Elias to need to know how to take care of himself.
Coupled with a score from Dascha Dauenhauer that is constantly pulsing beneath the scene like a throbbing vein, Thorwarth’s film moves at a brisk pace, hardly ever slowing down for long. We meet a cast of characters aboard the plane, but with few aside from male stewardess Eightball (Alexander Scheer) standing out all that much. It isn’t long before the terrorists announce themselves—a few of which are pretty surprising reveals—and the flight erupts into violence, resulting in a graphic eye gouge and Nadja taking a few bullets to the chest, left for dead by the terrorists.
As Schwarzenegger in The Last Action Hero would say, big mistake.
Blood Red Sky isn't the high octane, thrill ride classic that is Die Hard, but the DNA of that film flows heavy through the veins of this vampiric thriller. Left for dead and unbeknownst to the terrorists, undead, Nadja might as well be the vampire version of John McClane as she rips and tears her way through unsuspecting bad guys. Because this film takes itself perhaps a little too seriously, Nadja isn’t the one-liner spouting, bombastic personality that is McClane, instead portraying someone who is struggling mightily with their inner monster. Baumeister is terrific, bringing a sense of humanity beneath the outstanding creature makeup, while also adding in twitches and animal-like movements that demonstrate a frightening internal battle between woman and beast.
Thorwarth and the makeup designers do a great job of slowly uncovering more and more of the vampire which lurks inside Nadja. The more she kills, the more unrecognizable of a monster she becomes. Blood Red Sky gives us a vampire story that sheds the angsty vamp tropes for something more traditional and fierce. Baumeister completely disappears under the well-crafted makeup, with Nadja looking more bat than human, and the effect is chilling. The film also lives up to its title, with gore that gorehounds can sink their teeth into. Blood Red Sky sags a bit in the middle, but delivers big time on the vampire terror, eventually transforming into A Bloodbath at 20,000 Feet.
While Blood Red Sky is never “boring”, it could easily have sliced off some of the runtime for a smoother flight. Whenever things start to pick up, the filmmakers stop the film dead in its tracks, taking us back to Nadja’s unnecessary memories of becoming a vampire. These flashbacks don’t really offer anything of value to the viewer, because Blood Red Sky already has what it needs right there in front of us. Aside from some parkour vampire antics, the film also runs into a bit of trouble with a lack of suspense. Whereas John McClane managed to go for a while hunting terrorists undiscovered, Nadja isn’t so lucky, meaning Blood Red Sky allows for less vampire stalking and a whole lot of repetitive back and forth that rarely uses the setting to its advantage.
There’s also some vagueness as to what exactly the terrorists are up to, and what the rules are with Nadja’s vampirism, but Blood Red Sky is much less a film about plot and more about the heartbreak that comes when loved ones can no longer hide a devastating secret from each other.
Though not always as nail-biting as it could be, Blood Red Sky gives us the action, gore and vampire antics that we crave, but more than anything, this is an effective family drama that goes for the jugular.
Blood Red Sky comes to Netflix on July 23rd.
By Matt Konopka