Friday, 16 September 2011

Blood Runs Cold (Sonny Laguna, 2011) DVD Review

What?! I was just out chopping wood! Honestly! ... Blood Runs Cold (2011)

Let's be honest: most low-budget slashers can be forgiven their cinematic sins for one good decapitation scene. Swedish limb-lopper Blood Runs Cold may commit several offenses - its screenplay is crammed with cringe-inducing dialogue spouted by two-dimensional characters, most of whom you'll actually want to die - but if our critic-o-meter is set on a sin-to-decapitation ratio, Laguna's film might be a close call...

The setup is simple: Winona (Hanna Oldenberg) is an emerging artist from the city looking for a break from her stressful lifestyle. She's lent a supposedly luxurious abode by her manager but it turns out to be a decrepit dump, leaky and creaky, and dimly lit in the tradition of classic haunted house horror. After hearing odd sounds in the attic Winona decides to visit a local bar, where she bumps into ex-boyfriend Richard (Patrick Saxe), who's out with obnoxious, foul-mouthed colleague Carl (Andreas Rylander, doing his worst Quentin Tarantino impression) and his saintly girlfriend Liz (Elin Hugoson), who should be awarded the medal of valour for putting up with him. They all go back to Winona's for some drinks and decide to sleep over when a storm sets in. But sunrise will herald a surprise far worse than electric bills through the mailbox...

Blood Runs Cold clocks in at a lean 74 minutes, and at least half of that time is dedicated to fleshing out character history and establishing location. The screenplay is a Thanksgiving turkey, however, and what really drives the movie is its music. Samir El Alaoui has crafted a derivative but highly functional score, beautifully informing the re-emerging relationship between Winona and Richard, and later building tension before the blunt, brutal executions. The killer itself (himself?) is an sub-supernatural figure (following genre tradition established by Carpenter's Halloween, 1978), but the film misses a trick in never giving it (him?) a backstory. Heck, even Freddy Krueger had ground rules, despite every subsequent sequel re-writing them. We just never really fear the killer here, because he amounts to no more than a faceless plot device.

After a night of needlessly gratuitous cross-cut sex, morning arrives and the killer stirs. Richard and co. are disappointingly hacked to pieces within ten minutes of sunrise, quickly resulting in a bland last girl standing scenario. There's some pretty nice tension building, especially through the use of light (I suspect the darkness was digitally deepened in the editing suite) but what really counts here is the splatter, and for the most part it's very well executed (forgive the pun). Richard's head is the one decapitated, and gloriously so, shooting off like a rocket and leaving a syrupy blood spurt in its wake.

Winona wakes up, comes downstairs and is met by a large, dark bloodstain on the floor. Credibility takes a hit with her laughably underplayed reaction - instead of calling the police or investigating she begins to clean up the stain as if it were spilt milk. Is she in no way concerned for the safety of the three people now missing from her house?! It's an absurd fault in the screenplay but to her credit Oldenberg plays it well. She's actually really good in the film, fulfilling the scream queen role but also attempting to add depth to her character. In some scenes she succeeds, but the screenplay largely cramps her efforts.

The cat-and-mouse antics quickly become tiresome despite some impressive camerawork (one door panning reveal is hugely effective) and there's a little too much coincidence in Winona's eventual victory. Would there really be a machine gun lying there? Bloodied and bruised she escapes into the cold, tears streaming down her fear-stricken cheeks. Cut to black. Cue end credits. It seems that Laguna was so concerned with building up to the horror that he forgot how to craft a decent payoff. This is one for hardcore horror fans only - those who appreciate certain codes and conventions and get a genre kick out of "he's behind you!" cliché's and idiotic character decisions. Maybe you've seen every 80's slasher there is, and have devised your own drinking game around their tropes. Employ said game here and you'll be alright. I suspect that with a bigger budget and a bit more nerve Laguna might have a pretty solid feature in him somewhere down the line...

The Disc/Extras
Laguna shot on a Canon 7D SLR (switched to movie mode) so all things considered this is a pretty great transfer; clean and highly watchable. The digital age really does herald great things for independent filmmakers. The sole disc extra is a brilliant 9-minute 'Making Of' documentary which avoids the usual gratuitous backslapping and actually shows the cast and crew at work - set designers, light technicians and even the stunt artists. We follow the production chronologically (clearly everything was logged and filed) and get an insight into the day-to-day process. It's quite revealing, and really made me appreciate the hard work that goes into making a movie without the backing of a studio, or any kind of financial security. It's a vanilla disc, but the taste is sweet.

Blood Runs Cold slashes its way onto DVD on October 3rd.

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