Saturday, 9 November 2013

Review Roulette

Yes we're taking requests.  Tweet @AOTDBlog with the title of a film you'd like us to review and each week we'll draw two suggestions at random, I'll review one and Steve will review the other.  We may also offer short rebuttals to each other's reviews.  This week I'm a little envious: Steve got one of my favourite mainstream American horror films of the last couple of years and I got...

Book of Blood
Dir: John Harrison
Book of cliches.  Okay, we're done here, right?  I mean, that about says it all.  Steve, can you just put a picture and the grade on here and we'll call it a day?  What do you mean I'm fired?  Oh, okay then.

From what I understand, Book of Blood is based on the wraparound story from Clive Barker's similarly titled anthology, The Books of Blood.  It opens with a character covered in terrible scars (Jonas Armstrong).  After having a spot of breakfast (it's the most important meal of the day you know) he's being tortured.  The torturer remarks of his victim "you're a book of blood" and this is our cue to cut into a long flashback explaining how this story and many others ended up cut into this man's flesh (presumably in very tiny writing).  Armstrong turns out to be a university student named Simon.  He's taking a class on the paranormal from Professor Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward), who is also researching a house in which a murder took place that she believes was paranormal (so do we, given that we saw it in the opening of this story).  Mary discovers that in the past Simon has shown clairvoyant abilities and so drafts him in to help with her research, which means that she, Simon and another researcher will be staying in the house.  While they're there things both spooky and sexual begin to happen with the question being  whether any of those events were real or if they are all in Mary's head.

Good God it's dull.  In all seriousness, Book of Blood isn't without plus points.  Ward and Armstrong both acquit themselves reasonably well, and the chemistry between them is off in a way that works for the did they/didn't they question the film poses.  It also has a few reasonably striking images of gore and violence, not least an unseen force peeling a teenage girl's face off.  The problem is that neither the images nor the narrative present anything terribly new.  We've all seen hundreds of these films that ask whether characters are staying in a haunted house or whether they're simply imagining things.  This question is hardly helped by the opening narration or the fact the film is structured as a long flashback; it's not as if we're going to get to the end and the main character is going to say "actually nothing happened, turns out Mary has bad dreams".  This also means that the bulk of the film, and particularly  a key fake out, just feels like stretching things out so the film can get to feature length.

The bloody imagery also feels pretty derivative.  The first scene of the flashback story, involving the unseen force and the teenage girl, is a good example; it goes a little further in terms of explicitness, but it's not much more than a variation on Tina's death in the original Nightmare on Elm Street.  This is a good indication of the general feeling of the gore, it's not so much that you can point to a shot and say 'that's from that movie' so much as it is that Book of Blood just feels uninventive.  You can't always put your finger on it, but there's always a sneaking suspicion that you've seen that shot before.  By the time it gets around to confirming what you've already known for a good hour (not least because the movie told you in its first few seconds) I would imagine you will have, as I had, checked out of Book of Blood.

Ultimately this isn't an awful film, but it's extremely middle of the road, presenting adequate performances and a script and imagery that never tell or show us anything we've not heard or seen many times before in many better films.


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