Grimmfest 2019: Blood Vessel

Blood Vessel will be getting its European premiere at Grimmfest 2019. The screening will take place on Friday 4th October at the ODEON Manchester Great Northern.

Tickets are still available here!

Somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean, a rag-tag group of shipwreck survivors cling to life in a small raft. The year is 1945 and their only salvation is a mysterious NAZI vessel, seemingly devoid of life. Possessed of only their wits, know-how and a dizzying array of accents that they totally pull off (for the most part), our plucky band must investigate the NAZI ship, its many corpses, and those two mysterious caskets in the hold…

Owing more than a little to John Carpenter’s The Thing and a lot to Aliens, this claustrophobic vampire thriller is the second film from award-winning special effects supervisor Justin Dix. The real star of the show is the ship itself, the historic HMAS Castlemaine, here seen decked out in swastika flags and bathed in sinister red light. Dix, along with cinematographer Sky Davies, uses the space expertly. Even though the cast is minimal, they are constantly hemmed in, stepping on each other’s toes and manoeuvring awkwardly to avoid pipes and dials. The tense, mistrustful dynamic of the group is only heightened by this forced proximity, which we imagine made the shoot an absolute joy!

Dix’s passion for physical effects (he has previously worked on Star Wars, The Babadook and Vampire Squid favourite Lake Mungo) is on full display here. The corpses the group find around the ship are suitably grungy, and the monster itself, when revealed, is a fitting tribute to classic vampire cinema but with a refreshing modern update.

The ancient evil here prefers to use human drones to do its bidding. This creates some tense who-can-you trust sequences (another nod to The Thing, a clear inspiration for Dix). This decision was likely in part a practical one, with big prosthetic creations not always being the best at negotiating low doorways. However, this choice ends up being a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it heightens the paranoia and creates some genuinely unsettling scenes; on the other, it puts the brakes on some of the vampire-versus-human bloodshed that audiences will have bought their tickets for.

The main issue is one of pacing. The film tries to tease out its big vampire reveal, but modern audiences know that coffins plus creepy book with skulls on plus box of wooden stakes equals: vampire. They will be left tapping their feet wishing the protagonists would hurry up and figure it out too.

Our cast is made up of a group of loveable archetypes: grizzled Australian ranger, stoic Russian sniper, weasel-like intelligence coward (English, of course!). We’re not going to complain about relying on this kind of characterisation in a movie like this – it allows us to get straight into the action and creates organic inter-group friction, which is compelling to watch even when we’ve seen it all before. All the actors recognise their prescribed roles in the story and perform them to a T. This is especially true of John Lloyd Fillingham, the aforementioned weasel-like intelligence coward. He’s channelling his best Donald Pleasance ‘my life is worth more than yours’ bastard here, and seems to be having an absolutely great time.

Sure to be a crowd-pleaser but shackled to a slow, deliberate pace that holds it back in places, Blood Vessel is an entertaining love letter to claustrophobic chillers of years gone by. It’s a visually impressive nuts-and-bolts thriller with enough gothic gumpf and blood and guts to keep its audience rooting for more nautical NAZI necromancy.


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