Blood River (2009)
Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Andrew Howard, Tess Panzer, Ian Duncan
Directed by Adam Mason
Adam Mason is a unique case study in independent filmmakers; to date, each one of his movies, Broken, The Devil’s Chair and now Blood River, has had production values far greater than the budget Mason had access to. He’s also a filmmaker willing to take chances and create something outside of typical mainstream horror films. Because of that it seems he’s never been too concerned with making something commercially viable, but rather the kinds of films he would want to see, and it’s sad how rare a trait that is in our genre today.
Blood River is his latest foray into indie cinema that looks anything but indie, and it is by far his crowning achievement to date. It is a texturally rich film that is absolutely gorgeous to behold thanks to its bleak desert setting brought to life by the formidable skills of cinematographer Stuart Brereton, who helped shoot Devil’s Chair and is DP on Mason’s latest, Luster, as well.
As happy couple Summer and Clark (Panzer and Duncan, respectively) make their way across the desert on their way to deliver the good news of Summer’s pregnancy to her parents, one of their tires blows out and leaves them stranded in the middle of nowhere. Though Clark is sure he packed the spare, none is to be found in the trunk, so they make their way to the small town of Blood River, about 5 or 6 miles from their accident.
Shortly after they arrive in the ghost town, a drifter named Joseph (Howard) also wanders into the town. At first he seems like he just wants to help the couple, but as soon as he gets Summer alone, he lets her know his true intentions: He is there to pass judgment on Clark, who is not the man Summer believes him to be. At the same time, Clark is making his way back to the car and finds something very disturbing in the previously empty trunk.
But that is all the plot I want to give away; indeed I feel like I may have said too much already. What’s so great about Blood River, and to a lesser extent all of Mason’s films, is that nothing is spelled out for the audience. Your hand is not held nor your steps guided through this plot; there is a thick layer of ambiguity shrouding everything, from characters to situations, that allows the viewer to come to his or her own conclusion as to what is really happening.
Even though solid answers are never given and an easy way out is never even explored, let alone taken, there was enough to keep me enthralled from start to finish. Though the build-up to Joseph’s arrival takes a little longer than I would have liked, once he is with the couple and hell follows on his heels, any missteps made previously can be forgiven.
Of course, such a lofty film could never be pulled off if the talent involved wasn’t up to snuff, but that’s not a concern at all. All three leads turn in fantastic performances, no easy task considering the wide range of emotions each one of them has to hit upon throughout. Mason’s casting choices have always been solid for the most part, but the way this trio pulls off such an emotionally draining slice of cinema is the best I’ve seen yet.
Hopefully some wise distributor will be picking up Blood River soon, and when they do, with any luck they’ll be smart enough to realize this is a film that needs to be seen on the big screen; even the best home theater system would not be able to do it the full justice it deserves. No matter the fate of Blood River, it is very clear that Mason is director who makes brave, risky decisions regarding his art and thankfully has all the talent and resources to hedge his bets every time.
4 1/2 out of 5
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