★★ out of ★★★★★
Blood Conscious is a movie whose ambitions exceed the execution of the film. This cabin-in-the-woods thriller treads familiar territory and sets up some recognizable trope concepts but never really pays them off.
Directed by Timothy Covell
The promotional material touted that Blood Conscious was a mix between Get Out and The Thing, which just so happen to be two of the greatest horror movies ever made. I think it could be justified that the film was inspired by both of those movies, but it falls far, far short of the aspiration. I actually think it takes more inspiration from Evil Dead 2 as well, the touchstone for the Cabin in the Woods trope, and this movie aligns more closely with that plot.
Engaged young couple Brittney (DeShawn White) and her fiancee Tony (Lenny Thomas) are traveling to her parent’s lake cottage in the woods along with her younger, college attending brother Kevin (Oghenero Gbaje). The brother and sites bicker on the car ride to the cabin, while the successful businessman Tony needles Kevin about what it takes to make it in the real world. This family dynamic arc would serve as the primary connective tissue for the events to follow.
Upon arriving at the cabin, they find mom and dad’s car, with the hood up, and when finding the cabin empty they wander down to the lakeside dock to find their parents, as well as a couple of other bodies, murdered on the dock. In a panic, they dash back to the cabin, only to be confronted with the murderer (Nick Damici) still wielding his shotgun and demanding their car keys and their phones. He accuses the trio of being demons, just like the people lying dead on the docks.
When the man steals their car and flees, Kevin, Brittney, and Tony gather their wits and search the neighborhood looking for help only to find more bodies lying about, from either murder or suicide. They can’t find any more car keys, so Tony goes full alpha and tells the other two to stay in the cabin while he goes back to the highway to get help.
Tony ends up finding the wreck of their car on the side of the road, and while he heads back, the stranger/killer has also managed to find his way back to the cabin and there is a struggle which ends up with the stranger getting locked into the basement of the cabin, as he rants about demons in the woods and how you can’t trust anybody, as they could be one of THEM.
A mild-mannered middle-aged blonde woman named Margie (Lori Hammel) stumbles by the cabin looking for help, as her husband has been killed on the island in the lake. At this point, trust is in short supply (That’s the Thing connection, I suppose), paranoia setting in for all the characters. And her story really doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Is she a demon? Or another victim?
This is where you expect the movie to turn the corner, to make some big reveal. You expect to see some sort of transformation or a demon in some form, or at least a hint at the truth of the mystery. But you don’t get any payoff. It felt like the movie had the desire to have some sort of demon possession in the woods, but they couldn’t afford even the most rudimentary of make-up effects.
The movie remains suggestive of the presence of demons but never pays it off. There are elements of the classic tropes in play that should work. Is anything the crazy guy with the shotgun saying true? Are there really demons out there? Why don’t any of the stories of the locals holding up? What’s really out in the woods? Has character “X” really turned? Or are they just in shock and/or angry? Ambiguity is fine for a movie full of abstract ideas and concepts. But for a very straightforward cabin-in-the-woods thriller, you really need to come up with some viable answers to the questions posed in the plot.
Even a movie like Frailty, where demons were clearly the figment of one man’s imagination had some really powerful moments where you knew for certain that certain characters were just insane and there were no demons. Even if you don’t show the demons, show more of the madness. Certainly, some of the characters were showing signs of insanity, but no alternative scenario was painted other than demonic possession for why multiple people may be suffering.
A route that could have been taken is the disease or poisoning strategy employed with films like Cabin Fever, but all the plot and story end up being dependent upon the acting chops of the cast. Oghenero Gbaje put in a terrific performance as the nervous and cautious Kevin. The rest of the cast is rather flat, humorless, and delivers canned dialogue. Even the normally reliable genre actor Nick Damici (Fantastic in Late Phases and Mulberry Street) is rather uninspiring. Not bad or cringe-inducing acting, but not enough great performances to overcome ambiguities in the script.
The film struggled at times with executing the all-important violent shock elements of the movie. A lot of the action is implied off-screen. A shout and a crash, and then the discovery of a corpse. There are some decent moments of dramatic tension when somebody is caught in a lie, or unable to explain their actions, and then something explosive happens but it’s not shown in any detail. It feels like an old-fashioned pre-MPAA way of handling the horror. It happens out of frame but lacks mystery. It’s devoid of gore or authentic scares. And, while visceral gore is not inherently necessary, the payoffs for tense encounters are dampened by the movie not being willing to push any boundaries.
Even the supposedly shocking ending feels incomplete. The conclusion is a dangling sentence hanging in midair. I wanted this to be good, as having a low-budget independent horror movie with a largely black cast that takes itself seriously has great potential, but it never really elevated itself. It didn’t stoop to black stereotypes or heavy social commentary, which was refreshing, but it didn’t give you the impression that there was anything worth saying. Not surprisingly the equation of a black protagonist cast + paranoia do not automatically become Get Out + The Thing.
Blood Conscious was playing at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival and is now available streaming on Amazon. It is not rated by the MPAA but would be considered PG-13 for language, and some mild gore aftermath images.