Studio: The Horror Collective
Director: Justin Dix
Writer: Justin Dix, Jordan Prosser
Producer: Nathan Phillips, Matthew Graham, Steven Matusko, Brett Thornquest, Steven McKinnon, Justin Dix
Stars: Nathan Phillips, Alyssa Sutherland, Robert Taylor, Christopher Kirby, Alex Cooke, Mark Diaco, John Lloyd Fillingham, Ruby Isobel Hall
The stranded survivors of a boat sunk by Nazis find refuge on a drifting ghost ship, but discover undead creatures lurking aboard the vessel.
Seven survivors aren¡¯t entirely certain how lucky they are to be alive after Nazi forces sunk their hospital ship. The crew of cooks, medics, and miscellaneous personnel from multiple countries are aimlessly adrift in a crowded life raft in the North Atlantic Ocean. They¡¯re wounded, they¡¯re starving, and their hopelessness is matched only by the growing tension threatening to turn them against one another.
An approaching ship offers a sign of salvation until everyone sees the swastika waving on its flagpole. Ultimately however, they decide it¡¯s better to board the boat and become a POW than to stay where they are and drown in the middle of nowhere.
Surprisingly, the German naval vessel appears strangely deserted. Momentary relief becomes confused caution when three of the men find decapitated bodies whose skin bears black veins. The mystery deepens with additionally bizarre discoveries of charred corpses, an odd antique doll, and evidence that the captain sabotaged his ship to ensure escape was impossible. Evidently, a danger exists aboard the boat that is even more evil than the Nazis. And the Allied survivors will encounter that evil firsthand when they connect a mysterious little girl to the curious coffins chained up in the cargo hold.
Fair warning to creature feature fans who prefer to be hit early and often with in-your-face horror. The monster mashing in ¡°Blood Vessel¡± doesn¡¯t let loose until more than 50 minutes into the movie. I wouldn¡¯t call the film a ¡°slow burn¡± in the traditional sense we associate with psychological thrillers and atmosphere-heavy dramas. Rather, ¡°Blood Vessel¡± builds itself more through macabre mystique than visceral shock. The sightseeing long route taken through unsettling eeriness gives the movie a grounded tone that relies less on fantasy than say ¡°From Dusk Till Dawn,¡± ¡°Blade,¡± or ¡°Underworld¡± as far as cinematic vampirism goes.
¡°Blood Vessel¡± director and co-writer Justin Dix¡¯s career in special effects goes back to the turn of this century. Credits for his Wicked of OZ FX studio include big blockbusters such as two ¡°Star Wars¡± prequels as well as contemporary classic Australian creepers like ¡°Lake Mungo,¡± ¡°The Loved Ones,¡± and ¡°The Babadook¡± (review here).
Whenever you have a chance to watch an indie production made by a relatively new filmmaker with this kind of background, take it. People in Dix¡¯s position always know other well-placed professionals behind the scenes who are willing to cut deals and do favors for a veteran friend. ¡°Blood Vessel¡± reaps the benefits of those connections by being a somewhat small-ish film that looks like ten million bucks, even though it was most certainly made for significantly less.
¡°Blood Vessel¡± filmed aboard the HMAS Castlemaine, a WWII Bathurst-class corvette docked in Williamstown as a museum, and at Wicked of OZ HQ. Scenes are clearly cloistered by confined sets. But cinematographer Sky Davies turns the choking corridors and nighttime setting into an illusionary advantage. Darkness becomes one of the film¡¯s best friends, doubling as a mood maker while also masking the movie¡¯s budgetary edges to buff up a sense of scale it wouldn¡¯t otherwise have.
Heavy shadows sometimes get in the way of seeing specific events clearly, especially when accompanied by quick cuts. More often however, inky blacks meld with sparing CGI in exterior shots that carefully blend backgrounds while ably amplifying ambiance.
All of the actors are unfamiliar to me, yet everyone fills out their roles fine. Their characters are contrived for the story¡¯s convenience. I mean, what a coincidence that these seven survivors have diverse nationalities, unique disciplines, and individual behaviors so none of them are redundant. But the international flavors they add open up ¡°Blood Vessel¡¯s¡± appeal even further, and there¡¯s enough personality to go around that I couldn¡¯t single out a true weak link if I tried.
Given Justin Dix¡¯s r¨¦sum¨¦, FX are of course excellent. They¡¯re also predominantly practical. Perhaps most importantly, they are used effectively, not excessively, as ¡°Blood Vessel¡± delivers on the first word in its title without going overboard on indulgent gore.
Even when there isn¡¯t much taking place onscreen, the leanness in the script, which features a handful of really good lines, keeps the movie nimble. ¡°Blood Vessel¡± may not rock your socks off with spectacle. But solid sound design, acting, and a tight texture of terror demonstrate the difference passionate effort makes to elevate a midrange horror movie from standard Syfy fare to a terrific thriller with streamlined style that¡¯s simply refreshingly entertaining.
Review Score: 85