Rating: 4 out of 5.

There is nothing I love more than a fresh genre surprise, and Brad Anderson’s Blood perfectly fits the bill. Though I was not a fan of the director’s incredibly well-received movie Session 9, Blood is a different beast entirely. Dealing with very dark and heavy themes about parenthood and protecting the ones you love, the script from Will Honley is brimming with specificity and unspeakable horrors. One cannot help but relate with this mother and her plight; she certainly isn’t winning any mother of the year awards, but no one can say she did not sacrifice everything for her family. Michelle Monaghan grounds the film with her layered performance as a determined yet flawed matriarch. Vicious and morally ambiguous, Blood leaves the viewer with many questions, and serves up a potent blood bag bursting with flavor.

Jessica (Monaghan) has just begun moving into her Aunt Silas’s abandoned farmhouse, seeking a new horizon for her family. Clean now for fifteen months, Jessica is going through a rocky divorce and still in the midst of a custody battle with her ex-husband, Patrick (Skeet Ulrich). Her curious son, Owen (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong), and wise-beyond-her-years daughter, Tyler (Skylar Morgan Jones), are torn between Patrick and Jessica. While struggling with her addiction then going through rehab, Patrick became the primary caregiver. A nurse by day, now Jessica simply wants to settle into a peaceful new existence far out in the countryside.

When Owen and Tyler wander off the property to explore the nearby lake with their doggie Pippin, they discover the entire lake has dried up into some nasty, muddy swamp featuring a gargantuan tree at its center. Something dead is jutting out of the sludge—Pippin runs to it, and it takes both children to get him out and back home safely. Pippin, who has been acting strangely since they first arrived, eventually runs off into the night. Owen is devastated by this, convinced that his mother doesn’t care because the dog was a gift from his dad. Pippin does eventually return, albeit decidedly different.

His eyes glowing menacingly, Pippin becomes rabid. He bites Owen in the leg, and in the scuffle to get him free, latches onto Owen’s neck as well. Jessica manages to overpower the dog, but worries it could be too late for Owen. They rush him to the emergency room, where Owen is immediately thrust into surgery. The prognosis for Owen is not promising, and Patrick blames Jessica for endangering the children in the first place. Just when all hope seems lost, Owen springs to life and quickly slurps down a bag of blood hanging nearby his bed—something only Jessica sees.

Owen’s miraculous recovery still keeps him in the hospital for days to undergo observation. His blood pressure seems to drop, leading to another steady decline, but he exchanges a knowing glance with his mother. She knows what he needs now to survive: more blood. From here, Jessica will do anything and everything to make sure Owen’s health never declines again. If she can just keep Owen’s hunger satiated while researching a genuine cure to his mysterious sickness, Jessica is convinced she can have her little boy back for good. This is a story of parenthood, and protecting the ones we love by any means necessary.

Blood constantly evokes an eerie sense of unease. Thriving off the strengths of its key players, an essential family dynamic is what supercharges this indie horror feature. Skeet Ulrich is perfectly cast as the doting, concerned father. Both children are great too, especially Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, whose role in particular asks the world of a young actor. In a supporting role, cancer-stricken Helen (June B. Wilde) is notably sincere and captivating. Michelle Monaghan’s Jessica is the centerpiece. She commands the screen, sharing ably amongst her younger costars.

Nothing is over-explained or spoon-fed to the audience. A lesser film would devolve into gore-soaked nonsense featuring some monstrous big bad. Blood is more sophisticated than that, evoking Misery at the best of times in some of its more thrilling sequences. Blood simply depicts a small-scale horror/thriller, containing layers of nuance and beguiling moral quandaries. For what it’s worth, after an outstanding 2022 filled with stand-out horror hits, Blood signifies a strong outing from a follow-up year promising plenty more genre gems.

Prepare to shed some major Blood when the film debuts in theaters on Friday, January 27th, then On Demand on Tuesday, January 31st.

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