Blood Vessel (2019)
★★ / ★★★★
One of the problems with the Nazis-messing-with-the-occult-yet-again story of “Blood Vessel” is a lack of forward momentum. There is a simple plot, characters whose sole purpose is to be slaughtered, and neat practical effects, but the first half is such a trial to be endured that most viewers will be compelled to check out before the undead in the coffin wakes. Why is it that in this day and age of horror films, screenwriters still think it is a good idea to require the audience to endure a barrage of wooden personalities arguing with what to do next after finding themselves in a life-or-death situation? How is that fun for us?
The reason, I think, is that arguments—superficial ones—are easy to write. Yelling creates an illusion of conflict. In this story, which takes place during the tail end of World War II, Americans, British, Australian, and Russians are added into the mix. They clash, decibels increase, and glaring intensifies—yet there is a heavy gloom of boredom. This is a film in which it is not a good idea to keep the monster hidden for so long because the characters are given nothing interesting to say or do. Why not simply cut to the chase?
Notice that as folks are killed off, there is an improvement in the flow of the movie. I wished to know more about the Teplov the Russian sniper (Alex Cooke), particularly the stories behind his scars, from bullet wounds, knife fights, to animal attacks; Jane (Alyssa Sutherland) and her motherly nature, even toward the cowardly spook that no one trusts (John Lloyd Fillingham); and how Sinclair (Nathan Phillips) becomes the de facto leader of the group when things go from bad to worse. Still, the script’s ear for dialogue, written by Justin Dix (who directs) and Jordan Prosser, could have used more polishing. The performers seem up to the task.
The Nazi vessel commands minimal personality. In the middle of it, I was reminded of Rob Hedden’s “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan” because although that sequel is silly as hell, it is actually enjoyable to watch doomed characters running around that ship. We get a sense of geography, there are kills that take place in confined and open spaces, walls are slashed, doors are broken, glass windows shatter. In this film, characters touch objects as if they were in a museum. Are the props that fragile or expensive? There is a lack of rawness in the action. And so a level of urgency is sacrificed, too.
The living dead—whose precise nature I will not describe—looks good. I appreciated that heavy masks are employed to underscore the feral and otherworldly nature of the villains. Their powers are not new or surprising, but they get the job done. I would have loved to learn more about their history. A case can be made that, like the human characters, they are simply trying to survive. So is it fair to label them as monsters?
“Blood Vessel” fails to offer engaging content that would have allowed it to rise above its contemporaries. With its curious setting, a few badass protagonists (Teplov deserves his own movie), and formidable antagonists, clearly basic elements are present to make a superior work. But the magic proves to be in the details yet again. The writers made the mistake of putting more effort into creating shallow drama instead of enriching the story’s lore and mystique.