Directed by Tiago Guedes and Frederico Serra
Having never seen a Portuguese horror film and being a huge fan of Portuguese writer Jose Saramago (whose book Blindness would make a very horrific film), I was pretty excited to see what Bad Blood had to offer. However, if this film is any indication, then the Portuguese are a bunch of lightweights when it comes to handling hauntings and possession. Try and tell Linda Blair or Barbara Hershey how tough a time you had with your smashed dishes and that oh-so-spooky face outside your window. Tell Jobeth Williams how frightened you were by those unidentifiable noises, I dare ya; those girls are gonna tell you to suck it up, buttercup! Bad Blood is a well crafted film, but the lack of mood, tension, or scares and a hurried, unsatisfying finale end up souring the overall experience.
It’s a shame too because Bad Blood is a decent looking film, coming across as a Portuguese companion piece to The Woods, all dark nooks and crannies and spooky black forest. The sound design and score are moderately effective as well, starting off with a rather asinine pastoral theme that increasingly becomes more grating and dissonant as the film progresses. However, the film lacks the style to make up for its plodding story.
The opening setup is pretty standard fare: An urban family moves to the country for a much needed break from city life. Turns out Dr. Monteiro has inherited an historic mansion from his great uncle since none of his cousins want anything to do with the place. Upon their arrival they discover that the native population is fueled by superstitious beliefs including the particularly pervasive legend of Ismael.
Seems Dr. Monteiro’s ancestors made a big land grab hundreds of years earlier, and when the farmer Ismael refused to sell, they butchered his entire family. The wrath of God transforms Ismael into a weapon of vengeance, and he and his slaughtered family lurk the forest surrounding the house to this day.
Of course, the educated city slicker family isn’t prone to believing the local legends, and the film does an adequate job exploring the conflict between the human capacity for reason and our innately superstitious natures. That said, the family’s transition from rational doubt to irrational belief is forced. The family doesn’t really experience anything out of the ordinary apart from a few odd noises (easily explained), some family tension (kids hate moving), and the frequent appearance of peasant children (the region is poor). So when, near the end of the film, the Monteiro’s all of the sudden begin to believe their house is haunted, the viewer has a hard time buying that the characters in the film would reasonably draw this conclusion.
The one narrative element that does work is an interesting subplot including the eldest son and his younger sister, an unmarried, single mother. At one point I thought the filmmakers might be setting the audience up for an ending that revealed there was nothing supernatural about the house and the true horrors of Bad Blood are incest and family deceit. Unfortunately, this opportunity is squandered in favor of a rushed possession sequence followed by the oddly unmoving death of a young child.
It’s easy to imagine that co-directors Tiago Guedes and Frederico Serra intentionally kept the supernatural shocks to a minimum in an attempt to heighten believability. The film is clearly trying to make the Shakespearean point that “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” even having one character refuting rational explanation with the line “Is there not room for things that never crossed our minds?” In comparison to the “things” crossing most horror fans’ minds, Bad Blood’s provincial depictions of horror seem rather uninspired.
2 1/2 out of 5
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