Tag: stephen graham


Blood (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

A dead girl with twelve stab wounds is found at dawn and a suspect (Ben Crompton) is immediately apprehended. When brothers Joe (Paul Bettany) and Chrissie (Stephen Graham) search Jason’s place, they find the girl’s bangle as well as some photos that suggest that the man has been following her for some time. And yet despite these, there is not enough evidence to keep the man locked up and so he is released. Convinced that Jason is the killer, the brothers kidnap Jason and take him to an island where their father (Brian Cox), former chief of police, used to take suspects and beat them until they confess. By the end of the night, there is a second murder case.

Though I did not know much going into it, I had a sneaky suspicion that “Blood,” written by Bill Gallagher and directed by Nick Murphy, is based on a mini-series. The elements are present in order to tell a story with depth, intensity, and intelligence but one gets the feeling that what is ultimately put on screen is merely the surface. As a result, the picture feels like a good television show that is going through a mediocre episode that won’t end.

The acting keeps the material barely afloat. Bettany and Graham inject appropriate level of gravity to their characters as they increasingly deal with the pressure of keeping a secret under wraps. It is interesting that Bettany plays the sibling that one does not necessarily expect to have a certain darkness in him while Graham, the more brutish one, at least at first glance, turns out to be the more gentle of the duo. Despite solid performances, Joe and Chrissie’s relationship fails to take off. The characters are underwritten and we do not get a complete picture of them as brothers, detectives, and men wrestling with guilty consciences.

Instead, I caught my interest moving toward the man who has a gut feeling that the two might know something about the suspect’s disappearance. Mark Strong plays Robert, a fellow detective in the force, like an enigma. We learn that he has worked with the brothers’ father and their relationship was cold to nonexistent. Robert was afraid of Lenny. So it begs the question: Is Robert honing in on Lenny’s sons for purely professional reason—or is it personal? I believe the answer is both. However, again, the screenplay does not delve into the character deeply enough to make him truly compelling.

The film has a nasty habit of providing clear-cut answers. Crime movies, especially this kind, thrive on a bit of mystery—not necessarily when it comes what is being investigated but that of the characters’ psychology, what they might be thinking or going through when they have to deal with the demons of their fellow men.

Perhaps “Blood” might have been better left as a mini-series. While it does have some good performances, it does not have the required texture and pacing of a suffocating—but compelling—crime drama-procedural. When it hits a corner content-wise, it takes shortcuts by summoning convenient coincidences. Spoon-fed audiences are almost always not engaged and certainly not challenged.

Satan’s Little Helper

Satan’s Little Helper (2004)
★ / ★★★★

Doug (Alexander Brickel) is obsessed with a video game where it is the character’s mission to help Satan create chaos. The player earns points by hurting or killing people in hand-to-hand combat or using available inanimate objects. On Halloween, Doug meets a man in a Satan costume (Joshua Annex). The naive boy watches Satan murder people but is far from disturbed by what he sees. He actually wants to be a part of the killing spree.

“Satan’s Little Helper,” written and directed by Jeff Lieberman, has a unique premise but its lack of solid footing with its tone makes the story feel cheap and forced. The film might have worked either as a take-no-prisoner horror film, a very dark morbid comedy, or both. Unfortunately, it seems abashed to embrace the extremes, even in parts, so it ends up being boring and barely watchable. While I was tickled during the scenes in which Satan and the little boy knock over a pregnant woman and a blind person with a shopping cart (after putting a courtesy clerk in the dumpster), such high emotions are few and far between.

The kills lack genuine scares. For instance, when Satan grabs an unsuspecting person and drags him into an alley, it is like watching a wannabe thug with no prior experience of real violence. The result is comedic. Instead, we are subjected with an extremely slow exposition where Doug’s sister, Jenna (Katheryn Winnick), whom the boy claims he wants to marry, visits home from college with a new beau (Stephen Graham) in tow. As twisted as it is, it might have been interesting to watch Doug expressing his blossoming sexuality and feelings toward his sister. Because then there could have been a connection between a boy’s unrequited psychosexual yearnings and thirst for violence.

The writer-director chooses not to explore that angle and I wondered why. It feels like he is either stuck creatively or has decided to rest on familiar elements commonly found in bad made-for-TV scary movies to make the work more digestible. With such an inspiring premise, it is natural to expect the material to take it one step further with its story and undertones.

Jenna is supposed to be Doug’s savior because she is his big sister. It is difficult to root for her because, not unlike the big-breasted blondes who die early in slasher films, she is annoying and lacks common sense. For instance, she decides to leave her brother alone in the house, after someone has just been found brutally murdered inside, to go look for help. The killer might still be in the house. Would it have been too much to grab his hand and go next door together?

“Satan’s Little Helper” is an underachiever and runs about thirty minutes too long. It is a really bad sign when at some point I wanted to pay more attention to the extras’ costumes than the events that are happening. I prefer to watch a film that strives to be something different and fails than a film that does not try at all. At least with the former, I am less inclined to feel like my time has been stolen.