Once, a little over ten years ago, I was so delusional from a fever, that I imagined I was a tree. Not just any tree, but the mother fucking king of trees. I had roots. Branches. And a wide-ass trunk that could never be cut down. In retrospect, I probably should’ve gone to the hospital. But the point is, delusions can be a hell of a mind fuck. In that state of mind, how can you tell what’s real and what’s not? Coming next week from Dread Presents, Dry Blood aims to screw your brains silly…
…Directed by Kelton Jones (first feature) and written by Clint Carney (first feature as well), Dry Blood tells the painful story of Brian (Carney), a struggling addict who heads up to a cabin in a rural mountain town with the goal to get clean, but as his mind begins to deteriorate, he finds himself haunted by malevolent ghosts. Are these spirits real, or is Brian wrapped up in a murder mystery that he must solve before it’s too late?
Stories like Brian’s are often a fascinating, challenging experience for the viewer, because by observing the film through Brian’s point of view, the filmmakers are essentially setting us up from the beginning to feel the same detrimental paranoia as our main character. In other words, Brian is an unreliable “narrator”, a character whose viewpoint we cannot trust, because his mind clearly isn’t what it used to be thanks to the decaying effects of coke and who knows what else. Remember those old commercials, this is your brain, and this is your brain on drugs? Yeah, Brian’s brain has been scrambled, smashed, and thrown into a blender to make a good ole psychotic, dementia-inducing milkshake. Brian finds himself unable to tell what’s real from what’s not. He forgets moments from two minutes ago, or imagines some that never happened. So, from the beginning, we don’t know if the reality Brian is living in is real or not, a question which Jones and Carney manage to keep us guessing on all the way until the very end.
As a result, much of what we see and hear in Dry Blood is on a whole other level of “strange”. The film is a rather isolated one, with only a few other characters which Brian interacts with. There’s Anna (Jaymie Valentine), his once lover turned friend spending the weekend with Brian as he detoxes. And then we have a pesky cop (Jones), who can’t seem to stay the hell out of Brian’s business for some odd reason. And lastly, a shop clerk (played by producer Rob Galluzzo), who has no interest in dealing with Brian’s crazy. Whether intentional or not, Brian’s interactions with these characters all come off as extremely awkward and unnatural. The cast is not always all that convincing, and the dialogue has a tendency to feel as forced as trying to fit into skinny jeans that are five sizes too small, but it can be argued that some of that is the point, as Brian’s version of reality is not exactly “normal”. Still, because of this, the performances are at times a bit rough, and though there is a purpose to it all, requires a lot of patience from the audience. For example, Brian consistently runs into the cop over, and over, and over again, but rather than expand on these moments to make them interesting, the filmmakers instead choose to let these scenes play out almost as if on a loop. The dialogue, while not exactly the same, proceeds relatively the same way as each previous encounter, with the cop saying “hi buddy”, Brian getting frustrated, and the cop laughing it off and driving away. Over, and over, and over. Different day. Same shit. It’s obviously frustrating for Brian, but it can begin to work at the nerves of the viewer as well.
The relationship between Brian and Anna is the real killer though. While both cast members are doing what they can with the script, there simply isn’t much chemistry between them. Carney brings Brian all the way up to an eleven with a constant sense of panic in his character, whereas Valentine plays Anna as a severely calm, almost dead inside person with little to no reaction to Brian’s overreactions. So, the relationship between them, which is supposed to be one of passion and an unbreakable bond, instead feels impassionate and therefore unnatural, which shatters the emotional spell which the filmmakers are attempting to cast. Seeing as how Anna is the only one whom Brian cares about in the film, this uninspiring relationship damages Dry Blood immensely.
Dry Blood also suffers from a bit of a pacing/structural issue. It isn’t until about twenty minutes into the short 80-minute runtime that the film even gives the slightest hint to what sort of story we are in with Brian’s first ghostly encounter, but after that, the film continues to wander for quite a while without much ever feeling truly at stake. The cop stalking Brian rarely seems like anything more than a nuisance, the ghosts never appear to have much intent other than popping up, and all in all there just isn’t the sense of dread that one might expect with such a bleak story. Sadness over Brian and his crumbling sanity, sure, but very little beyond that. Needless to say, Dry Blood is a bit, err, dry, pun very much intended.
All of that being said, Dry Blood does have its positives that make it stand out over what might normally be a mostly forgettable endeavor. For one, despite the fact that the film itself is severely lacking in any substantial tension, the ghosts themselves are straight up horrifying. The effects team does an incredible job in creating rotten, bloated, glowing-eyed corpses that are reminiscent of the bathtub lady from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, an image which I’m sure still haunts many of our nightmares. These ghosts come close to having that same, spine-tingling effect, and are shot exceptionally well by cinematographer Graham Sheldon. Jones is careful to not to give the audience too good of a look at these beings, shedding just the right amount of light on them for maximum impact. The gore in Dry Blood, though minimal, is also wonderfully gruesome. The film may move at a crawl through the first two acts, but just as the audience is starting to feel a little too restless, Carney’s script suddenly picks up for what is a nail-biting, brutal finish full of blood, screams, and all of the holy shit insanity you can take.
Most importantly, Dry Blood ultimately turns out to be one hell of a mind fuck that doesn’t even have the common courtesy to toss some change on the dresser for a Lyft home while you’re left there feeling violated in a corner and wondering what the hell just happened. Dry Blood has many flaws, and will likely turn off most audiences before they’re able to make it to the grim, twisty conclusion, but it’s also one of those that manages to flip everything we think we know on its head, and for that alone, deserves some praise. Like any good finale, Dry Blood leaves the viewer questioning everything they’ve just seen, and warrants a second viewing through a new, informative lens. If nothing else, Dry Blood is no doubt one of if not THE darkest films to be released under the Dread Presents label to date. Cocaine is a hell of a drug, kids. Stick to weed and horror movies.
Dry Blood releases on VOD January 15th from Dread Presents.
By Matt Konopka