Director: Brannon Braga
Writer: Adam Simon, Brannon Braga
Producer: Joseph Micucci, Michael Mahoney, Jason Clark
Stars: Britt Robertson, Rafi Gavron, Freda Foh Shen, Nicholas Campbell, Kenji Fitzgerald, Paige Turco, Saad Siddiqui, Brett Rickaby, Yul Vazquez, Anna Friel
A fabled book rumored to be written on human flesh links three tales of psychics, psychosis, and death.
¡°From the nightmares of Clive Barker¡± comes¡ new stories that were actually written by Adam Simon and Brannon Braga? Uh yeah, that¡¯s not exactly what I wanted or expected out of a purported ¡®Books of Blood¡¯ adaptation either.
If you want to buy into the explanation given during press interviews, Hulu¡¯s anthology movie came out of Braga and Barker¡¯s regular sessions of creative kibitzing, making it something of a joint venture. It honestly sounds to me like Braga provided the bulk of the ideas. Barker, who was in the room at the time, nodded approval and maybe nudged a concept this way or that. Voila, collaboration.
I¡¯m not saying I don¡¯t believe Barker had any meaningful input on the project. I¡¯d merely point out he isn¡¯t one of the credited writers and only has an executive producer title, which is often honorific. I think it¡¯s fair to be suspicious about how much involvement Barker actually had. At the very least, I¡¯m not convinced it¡¯s enough to justify a ¡°from the nightmares of Clive Barker¡± tagline.
That said, Barker¡¯s uncertain role still wouldn¡¯t warrant dismissing Hulu¡¯s ¡°Books of Blood¡± out of hand. What Clive Barker is to horror, Brannon Braga is to sci-fi. Braga can be considered Barker¡¯s equal in terms of expansive imagination, and he may be second only to Gene Roddenberry as a respected steward of the ¡°Star Trek¡± franchise. Braga certainly knows how to condense grand spectacle into a small screen format. I¡¯ll be onboard any project where he is at the helm. I just wish ¡°Books of Blood¡± wasn¡¯t billed as being from Clive Barker when it¡¯s really from Brannon Braga.
With that out of the way, what about this ¡°Books of Blood¡± movie itself? Well, it certainly shows its roots as something that was alternately talked about as a potential TV series, straight adaptation, or launch pad for new terror tales at various points in development. It¡¯s a confused collection of pieces that struggle to slide together into a creatively cohesive bigger picture. Individually, the three segments also struggle to strike a fair balance between reasonable runtimes and reasonable goals for the stories to accomplish.
The first full segment, ¡°Jenna,¡± typifies how ¡°Books of Blood¡¯s¡± stories want to grow legs to explore more space as speculative fiction, then suddenly cut off at the knees when they remember they¡¯re supposed to be shorts. ¡°Jenna¡± ends up caught in a limbo where it doesn¡¯t have the depth to develop into a feature, yet meanders so overlong that it takes up almost half of the movie¡¯s entire duration.
¡°Jenna¡± goes into a lot of detail to establish its key character. Jenna suffers from a disorder that makes her hypersensitive to ordinary sounds such as mastication. She recently returned from a mental institution stay stemming from an unspecified incident with a boy at college. Jenna just quit her medication cold turkey, causing her overbearing mother to threaten another asylum stint. Jenna stops sketching in her book to steal money from mom and mom¡¯s new boyfriend, then hops on a bus toward Los Angeles with no particular plan in mind.
This is a lot to learn about someone for what essentially amounts to a standard story about a possibly psychotic person seeing strange things. An odd older man seems to be stalking Jenna. Cockroaches that may or may not really exist squirm from behind wallpaper at a cozy bed and breakfast. Jenna meets a guy named Gavin who shares a mutual romantic interest. Various characters idly philosophize about growing vegetables, why birds fly, and make more metaphors of iffy relation to the main arc.
While you¡¯re wondering how all of these ancillary asides add up, you discover they don¡¯t. Maybe they did in a previous draft when ¡°Jenna¡± was conceived as something else. As one-third of ¡°Books of Blood,¡± everything only culminates in a simple creepshow whose smash-cut conclusion arrives so abruptly, you feel cheated that ¡°Jenna¡± took you on a trip between two points using the most roundabout route available.
I don¡¯t need to say much about second segment ¡°Miles¡± because anyone can immediately guess everything there is to the tale strictly from its setup. Yes, this is the story most closely culled from Barker¡¯s books. But if you need a crystal ball to predict what happens to a phony psychic when a real ghost reacts to his scam, you must not have read a typical EC comic before.
That¡¯s kind of the case with ¡°Bennett¡± too. The film¡¯s opening bookend comes back around for this last bit about a hitman searching for the fabled ¡®Book of Blood.¡¯ As with ¡°Jenna,¡± weird things happen on Bennett¡¯s quest for the terrible tome. Bennett¡¯s wheelman encounters a frightening old woman, hears his dead mother whispering, and feels compelled to commit suicide. Bennett gets chased by a phantom vehicle, a swarm of rats, and unseen shadows that cause him to stab his own stomach. Again, it¡¯s a lot of stuff with little context, adding in questionable connections that strain to shove all three segments into the same shared universe.
Professional performances and a quality production, albeit one that screams TV more than movie, ensure ¡°Books of Blood¡± can never truly become ¡°bad.¡± It¡¯s merely mediocre. If this were a weekly series, I¡¯d check it out. It wouldn¡¯t be an event to mark on the calendar or something worth arranging a watch party over. An entire season of episodes would probably pile up in my queue before I remembered they were there. Then I¡¯d turn one on while eating dinner or folding laundry or whatever.
Someday, someone will figure out how to film something like ¡°In the Hills, the Cities¡± and fans will finally get the dedicated ¡®Books of Blood¡¯ adaptation they desire. This ¡°Books of Blood¡± is not that ¡®Books of Blood.¡¯ At no point while watching it did I feel like I was seeing something that came from the same distinct dreamscape that brought us Rawhead Rex, Candyman, Night Breed, and The Midnight Meat Train. This ¡°Books of Blood¡± is another average anthology that no one would think to connect to Clive Barker if his name weren¡¯t used to promote it.
Review Score: 50