Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Andrew Howard, Tess Panzer, Ian Duncan
Directed by Adam Mason
Distributed by Revolver Entertainment
If there’s one independent filmmaker out there that can always make me sit up and pay attention, it’s Adam Mason. Ever since being intrigued by Broken and blown away by the monsterrific The Devil’s Chair, anything he does ends up high on the “to see” list. Now, Mason’s most accomplished piece of work to date is finally available on UK DVD in the form of Blood River.
The film concerns loving couple Summer and Clark (Panzer and Duncan) as they take a road trip across the desert to present Summer’s parents with the good news of her recent pregnancy. Along the way they suffer a blowout and in searching for assistance end up in the abandoned town of Blood River. Shortly after arriving, a mysterious cowboy drifter named Joseph (Andrew Howard) appears. It seems he’s also broken down a few miles away and offers his assistance to the young couple.
While Summer finds the new free-spirited arrival strangely endearing, Clark almost immediately sets about passive-aggressively butting heads with him; meanwhile Joseph makes passing comments apparently designed to turn our lovebirds on each other. The audience is already privy to certain information about Joseph’s activities (he does NOT appear to be a good or trustworthy character), but the truth of his existence is something neither Summer nor Clark could ever possibly have imagined – and may be the destruction of them both.
It’s impossible to go into too much detail regarding the plot of Blood River, which is a shame as it’s the masterful unfolding of it that is exactly what makes it so special. Reading too much and spoiling the events would do an inexcusable disservice to what can only be described as a tour-de-force of character work. As the story unfolds, your mind will reel. Emotions and sympathies will sway and turn as you’re never quite sure just what Joseph’s intentions are. Every single member of the cast delivers in spades with Panzer and Duncan managing a real and convincing chemistry in the early stages and effortlessly carrying the weight of the later scenes as buried secrets, guilt and utter dismay bubble and explode to the surface. When the credits roll and you see literally six names in the cast list, it hits home at just how well delivered every moment of Blood River really is.
Mason regular Andrew Howard is quite simply exceptional as the enigmatic Joseph. Insightful, endearing, contemplative and threatening all at the same time, his every line and movement are like a volcano just waiting to erupt, and in the final stages of the film the man can only be described as a force of nature come to life on-screen. You just can’t dare pull your eyes from him.
Mason’s skills behind the camera continue to evolve with Blood River looking like it cost many, many times the budget it did (which could also be said for most of his work), mainly due to some fantastic location work. A few well thought out aerial shots and very impressive score come together at key moments to really raise the work into the upper echelons of the genre. Mason frames a number of impressive displays of camerawork; however, a few minor moments fail to gel as well as they could have – for example, the introductory shot of Joseph is strikingly cinematic, but the editing robs it of any organic placement; instead it feels constructed and forced. This is a minor gripe, however noticeable. In fact the only real problem that the film faces is contained within some of the dialogue, albeit only occasionally. The majority is so well delivered that the odd clumsy piece of writing becomes ever more noticeable.
Blood River is an intelligent, gripping, shocking and draining piece of cinema. Be aware that a complete set of answers won’t be given here, but if you like your horror to keep your mind awake and your eyes glued, all I can say is:
Buy it. Buy it now.
The DVD by Revolver Entertainment is presented very nicely – about as well as the film could look and sound short of getting the high-def treatment (which would be an excellent enhancement in viewing the stunning desert skies and landscapes that Mason frames). While the DVD screener did not include any special features, the final version does boast a making-of documentary and commentary by director Adam Mason. These have not been scored, but ensure that this release is an essential purchase. Thanks to Elijah Drenner for the heads up!
4 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5
Discuss Blood River in our forums!