By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Nathan Phillips, Alyssa Sutherland, Alex Cooke
Directed by Justin Dix
Written by Justin Dix, Jordan Prosser
Produced by Wicked of Oz Studios, Storm Vision Entertainment, SunJive Studios
I’m going to resist the urge to wax poetic about how terrible 2020 was, and instead cut straight to the chase: BLOOD VESSEL is the perfect film to start the new year on. I know, that’s a big claim. But hear me out. Do you like your horror campy and action-packed? Do you like “survive the night” style films with a diverse cast of characters who aren’t all fundamentally unlikeable? And most importantly, do you HATE Nazis and everything they stand for?
If any of the above piqued your interest, then BLOOD VESSEL might just be the flick for you.
It throws us straight into the conflict with little preamble: a diverse group of Allied WW2 soldiers is stranded on a raft in the middle of the Atlantic, nearly dying of thirst and desperate for any kind of aid, when an apparently empty German minesweeper passes by. The ragtag crew manages to board the ship and enjoys a moment (like a LITERAL moment) of security before becoming deeply unsettled by the strange situation they’ve found themselves in. The ship is littered with corpses, webbed veins spreading from their twisted bodies like some kind of growth, the captain is found dead, screaming and holding what looks like some kind of Necronomicon, and a little girl skulks about in the shadows of the ship, wearing a gas mask and clutching at a burned antique doll. The crew, meanwhile, is holding on to sanity by a thread: the cultural and national differences between the crewmates causing a fair amount of infighting as the mysteries of the ship begin to unveil themselves. Will they be able to pull themselves together to survive? Or will they break under pressure, and allow themselves to be dominated by the force the Nazis awoke?
“Messaging wise, the film is refreshingly straightforward: fuck Nazis and everything they’ve ever done or created.”
The film doesn’t have a ton of setup, choosing to allow us to get to know the characters through their actions (and the occasional, and thankfully SHORT, exposition dump), and this results in a consistent, tense buildup in the first half of the film that pays off beautifully in the second. The red and blue color palette clashes in a way that’s visually striking and dramatic, a reminder that everything that happens on this ship is a microcosm of war itself. The first half of the film is moody and dramatic, with the crew slowly becoming aware of how royally fucked they are as they come across the Bioshock-like evidence of the vampire’s misdeeds, while the second half is action-packed with a healthy seasoning of camp. The design on the vampires (and the way they behave) is wonderfully eerie and wholly campy, with long monologues dramatic hand gestures as they control infected crewmates, and evil laughter for days. Get ready for the second half to get metal as fuck, with hefty gothic-looking coffins, the most ornate vampire hunting kit I’ve seen in recent memory, and showdowns with dozens of infected in cramped hallways.
Messaging wise, the film is refreshingly straightforward: fuck Nazis and everything they’ve ever done or created. It draws an unmistakable parallel between the antagonists (The Vampire Lord lurking in the cargo hold and his offspring) and the real-world monsters whose boat they’ve occupied; The Vampire Lord rarely kills his prey, choosing instead to control them, a malevolent puppeteer who takes delight in subjugating the will of others. Also notable is that the film goes out of its way to show us that those who enable the monsters are just as bad: a couple of our crewmates break, either attempting to steal Nazi gold (unleashing the monster in the first place) or offering to trade Allied secrets in exchange for rescue. The respective outcomes of these actions are… well, not positive, let’s say.
Perhaps most importantly though, the overall message of BLOOD VESSEL seems to be “United we stand, divided we fall.” Our cast of characters all come from different Allied nations with their own interests and prejudices (one or two of which, fair warning, are expressed in ways I didn’t love. I think the f-slur was used at one point, but whatever, that guy died), and at the outset find themselves at odds with one another, their clashing perspectives almost bringing them to the breaking point. The characters who can get over their differences and work together against their common enemy do well for themselves. The characters who can’t? Not so much. The film’s ending doesn’t feel nihilistic but cautionary: if our crew had worked together from the outset, would more of them have survived? It’s a reminder that if we don’t band together against our common enemy (Fascism, Nazism, and the rise of both currently happening across the world), it will eventually be too late.
That sentiment might just have made BLOOD VESSEL one of my favorite horror films in a year that was packed with great ones. I’m giving BLOOD VESSEL a 10.
Let’s make 2021 a year where we don’t tolerate Nazis.