Family Blood (2018)
★ / ★★★★
The story could have been far more intriguing had it started at the point when the son discovers that his mother had become a vampire. This is the dramatic push of the final thirty minutes of “Family Blood,” a horror film so bloated with heavy-handed metaphor between drug addiction and vampirism, the work never gets the chance to take off. It appears that co-writers Nick Savvides and Sonny Mallhi (who also directs) are unable to decide whether the picture is a drama that just so happens to have horror elements or a full-on body horror movie. Due to this indecision, the screenplay suffers from a sort of malaise: curious one second, dead dull the next.
It even misses to underscore the true central protagonist. Supposedly, it is Ellie (Vinessa Shaw), a recently divorced mother with a history of drug addiction but wishes to continue to overcome it. She has recently moved into a new home with her two teenagers, Kyle (Colin Ford) and Amy (Eloise Lushina), who are unhappy and in constant fear that their mom would relapse. For a while, the story follows Ellie in the home, in support meetings, out in the streets when temptation is abound. But following a character does not magically make her more interesting than she actually is. While Shaw delivers a watchable performance, the screenwriters fail to communicate why she is worth following. What makes her special or unique? The character being portrayed by a recognizable face is not enough.
The more compelling protagonist is Kyle, an angsty teen who has a talent for sketching monsters—he is a young man who is keen on details: his art, the changes in his mother’s behavior. Kyle is an undercooked character and yet he is interesting already; imagine how more layered he could have been had the writers thought twice regarding which perspective to tell the story from. Kyle makes a sweet connection with a classmate and fellow troublemaker named Meegan (Ajiona Alexus), also an artist but within the realm of street art. These two are never given the light of day—pun intended—to be challenged, to develop, to evolve. It is curious because the level of violence is toned down which gives the impression that the picture is mainly targeted toward teens. If so, Kyle and Meegan should have been front and center. It appears, too, that the filmmakers do not have an understanding of their target audience.
It pokes fun of vampire tropes: sunlight, garlic, stakes, having to be invited inside one’s house and the like. For a while, it is cute, I guess, and I caught myself letting out a light chuckle or two. But other than a wink or a nudge, nothing is done with these tropes. Acknowledging them is not especially clever or creative. When the word “vampire” is finally uttered, is the intention to surprise the audience? I found the work to be consistently reaching at the lowest hanging fruit—maddening because I recognize the story’s true potential.
A child learning that his mother has become a sort of monster from his sketches should be a heartbreaking and terrifying affair. When someone has turned into a vampire, it means that the has died. It is correct for the material to be both a drama and a horror film. But the way in which the story is written and told fails to make a hybrid worthy of exploration. There is not one effective scare to be had here nor is there a truly sad or emotionally affecting moment. We should feel something strong when Kyle recognizes for the first time that the look his mother has given him is no longer filled with love but of animalistic hunger. I mean, if you were him, wouldn’t you feel alarmed in the least? The movie offers not even a superficial understanding of human nature and behavior.