[NIGHTSTREAM Review] BLOODY HELL
Courtesy of NIGHTSTREAM
BLOODY HELL is an accurate title. Not only as a description of the situation in the movie, but also as the traditional British, or in this case Australian, curse. It’s directed by Alister Grierson (Sanctum, Tiger, Kokoda) and written, co-produced, and edited by Robert Benjamin (Welcome To Acapulco). It starts in one bad place and then goes suddenly to an entirely different level of horror and comedy. It slowly reveals what happened and what is happening and keeps opening up new vistas of some of the most unpleasant activities of humanity without totally explaining everything that is happening before it’s necessary. It’s like a magician pulling rabbits out of the hat, but with more violence.

The young Alia (Jessi Robertson) tries to escape from family members who are chasing her. She leaps desperately into a lake and is captured. Switch to a likable, but smarmy man Rex Coen (Ben O’Toole) waits in line at a bank, obviously waiting to flirt with a specific teller when the masked men start robbing the bank. He sees a gun in a woman’s handbag and decides to save the day. Cut to Rex on trial for an accidental death during his heroic rescue of the hostages. Cut to Rex eight years later, leaving for Finland to escape his bad memories. In the air lounge, a couple stares at him and obviously starts talking about him. He’s a celebrity who is constantly being chased by the paparazzi so he thinks it’s the usual kind of thing until a Finnish passenger (Bryan Probets) comes over and warns him that the people were speaking Finnish and making plans to “get him”. He brushes this away and when he arrives in Finland gets into a taxi. The taxi starts filling with knockout gas and he panics while losing consciousness. Things go black and the movie really gets underway.

While researching this movie I found that not only is the director Australian but all of the actors – most of whom are playing Finnish people, are all Australian or from New Zealand including Ben O’Toole who very convincingly portrays that most American trope of the ex-military lone wolf hero who is always cracking wise before killing the bad guy. The script and the story are very cunningly constructed. The movie withholds just enough information to keep you on edge about what’s going to happen and wondering exactly what’s going on, but not in a dishonest way. It goes with the idea that I am a big fan of; that not everything needs to be explained upfront to the viewer and that it is up to the filmmakers to let the story unravel before the audience when it works best for the film. It is very useful to the story to be able to let the events happen naturally and then allows the characters to remember or for circumstances to unleash the information for maximum horror or comedic effect. BLOODY HELL is a horror-comedy that deals with the most currently popular of taboos and the horror of the family unit.

Rex is a lone wolf, but one who has his own Greek chorus. Rex takes the concept of helpful self talk to an extreme by actually hallucinating a double of himself that counsels him during crisis situations and heckles him when he does dumb things. Not only is it hilarious to watch him argue with himself, but it also normalizes the idea that talking to yourself isn’t really that weird and can actually be helpful to you. Rex also fantasizes about committing acts of violence instead of committing them. This might seem odd to people as well but is definitely better and less anti-social to merely imagine these acts than actually commit them. I can relate. The character and the film are meta. As an example, the continuing discussion of exactly what quip to go with when Rex drops the bad guy. Alia (Meg Fraser) is a delicate and sensitive woman who most urgently wants to escape from her familial captors. Fraser plays her very convincingly as a gentle soul in need of rescue. Olli (David Hill) is a curious little boy who is probably a little more curious than is good for his health. Mother (Caroline Craig) and Father (Matthew Sunderland) are stern disciplinarians whose love of their favorite child warps their familial bonds and seems more than willing to continue having children to help out because they are obviously still very hot for each other.

Brad Shield, who has worked as DP of the second unit on The Avengers, Pacific Rim: Uprising and The Wolverine is the cinematographer and does well alternating different styles of lighting and color to differentiate each section of the film. In particular, the opening sequence that uses light coming through fog and the shots in the water are some of my favorites as are the golden yellow tones in the family home that are reminiscent of TCM. The recurrent close-ups on Rex’s eyes really work well for me and put the focus on his character and how important each decision he makes is, not only related to his safety, but to the plot. Brian Cachia composed the score and it works very well to create and reinforce the mood. Alister Grierson has done a marvelous job directing the film that could easily become weighed down by its subject matter and give off a sleazy aura too often found in these stories that would dampen the very sprightly humor that script has. He keeps it light but doesn’t ruin the stakes involved in dangerous situations or the horror in the story. There are also visual puns sprinkled through the film if you look closely.

There is a fount of distrust of humanity, in general, flowing from BLOODY HELL. As in real life, the people in the movie will continue to shock the shit out of you over and over again. The family unit doesn’t come out looking very good, which is a trait that this film has in common with another family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. One of the film’s greatest assets is its willingness to pull the rug out from under the viewer purposefully and continually throughout its running time. It is a burgeoning trend among films this season that I can’t get enough of. It is less of a psychological character study and more of a satire of human society with a good-sized portion of ass-kicking. Genuinely entertaining, violent but not too gory, BLOODY HELL is a raging success in the horror-comedy sweepstakes.

BLOODY HELL made its North American premiere debut at NIGHTSTREAM.

 

 

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Dolores Quintana is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles. She has written for blogs as diverse as Buddyhead, Pocho.com, and The Theatre @ Boston Court. She works as an actor in independent film and both immersive and traditional theatre with Alone: an Existential Haunting, Screenshot Productions, and Native Voices at The Autry.
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