Blood, the newest film from director Brad Anderson (Devil in Ohio), stars Michelle Monaghan as Jess, a mother and nurse who has recently separated from her husband, played by Skeet Ulrich. Jess is also newly clean and sober, and she’s moved back to her family’s old rural farmhouse to take care of her two children, Owen and Tyler. With her rocky history, she knows it will be a fight to keep custody of the two children, but she desperately wants it, and will do anything to prove herself capable.
Eight-year-old Owen (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) and teenage Tyler (Skylar Morgan Jones) aren’t exactly happy that they’ve moved to the middle of nowhere with their mother. The old home and barn are creepy – old family photos line the hallways, and it’s dusty and dark. Tyler in particular, is unhappy with the move, while young Owen doesn’t really mind having a new place to explore with his dog Pippin. Pippin, however, gives warning signs that not all is well with the new location. When Pippin runs off one night, Owen is determined to find him. Pippin returns, rabid and covered in blood — he bites Owen, and from here, things rapidly go downhill for the family.
Something supernatural has happened to Owen, and Jess realizes at the hospital that Owen needs blood to survive. He needs to ingest blood; specifically, he needs to drink it. It’s gross. Blood never relies on jump scares to scare the viewer; watching young Owen slurp down IV bags full of blood is enough to make anyone want to look away. While Blood is suspenseful, as the situation with Owen escalates, gross-out body horror is favored over violence or gore.
Once Jess realizes what is happening, she considers what she needs to do. It doesn’t seem like she gives even a second thought to stealing plasma from the hospital where she works; she’s intently focused on obtaining the one thing that seems to make Owen feel better. When this is no longer an option, she buys a rabbit from the pet store to kill for it’s blood, but this isn’t good enough for Owen. He needs human blood. Despite knowing that she needs to keep up appearances for the divorce proceedings and CPS, Jess draws her own blood for Owen, giving herself the appearance of track marks. It’s hard to believe how uncritically she is thinking of this situation, as she shoves all morals aside in favor of her son.
While it’s Owen who is literally turning into a monster, Jess quickly becomes a truly deplorable human being. It seems like Jess was never as interested in being a good mother to her teenage daughter Tyler; her focus is always on Owen. As if being a teenage girl isn’t difficult enough, Jess makes comments to Tyler that speak to her own internalized misogyny and unrealistic expectations of her daughter. When Owen is goofing off and jumping off the barn, Jess yells at Tyler for not watching her brother closely enough. When Owen jokes that Jess loves him more than he loves Tyler, Jess agrees. She comments to Tyler that she likes Owen more, and while it seems like Jess may be joking, this isn’t totally clear to Tyler. She continues to put too much on her daughter as the situation with Owen progresses.
In Jess’s quest to get the blood Owen needs, she kidnaps a terminal cancer patient named Helen (June B. Wilde) from her hospital. As if this isn’t bad enough, she also shames the Helen, telling her that she wouldn’t understand what she’s doing because she never had children. Jess tries to justify herself and what she’s doing because Helen doesn’t have a family. She’s physically torturing this woman who is at the end of her life, and also verbally degrading her; it’s tough to watch. Monaghan’s performance as Jess is great; while at one point you may feel sympathy for her plight, she takes it all way too far. Michelle Monaghan has a talent for playing unlikeable protagonists, and by the end of Blood, you might feel that she gets what she deserves.
Blood is a new and interesting take on a vampire story; the supernatural elements are minimized and the focus is instead on what vampirism could do to a family. It’s very similar to many stories about what addiction and codependency will do to a family – watch any episode of Intervention to see families do too much for the addict in their lives, and you’ll see a clear parallel to what Jess does for her bloodthirsty son. Jess, being an addict herself, has the sort of laser-eyed focus that an addict has for their next fix, but she has this focus for her son’s next drink of blood instead now.
Blood will make you wonder what you would do in this situation, and how you would react. Despite being a story about a fictional medical anomaly there’s a level of realism that makes the story emotional and effective. By the end of the film, as Owen’s condition progresses, some of the realism goes out the window, and the film does not end as strong as it started. It’s still an interesting watch full of very strong performances, and there’s a lot to unpack about family dynamics and how mothers treat their children.
‘Blood’ will be in theaters January 27, 2023 and available On Demand January 31, 2023
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