Onus meets the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a twisted game of kill or be killed.
One often does not expect much of a film with a budget of £10,000. Indeed, one pre-winces and hopes for the best. These fears seem borne out by the opening scene of the Blood Harvest with sloppy cinematography and a disjointed attack by a man in a skull painted welding mask. We have no context for this and the scene leaves the viewer feeling that the movie wanted to be much gorier than it really is. The acting on the part of the victim is rather lifeless and unbelievable, which is a major flaw in this movie (none of the victims are believable as being terrified or in pain). The first minutes of this movie leave us with the feeling that it is some sort of pseudo-grindhouse flick that isn’t worthy of our time.
That is a mistaken impression.
It does take the movie a little time to get going. We are introduced to the police working the case, one of whom, Jack Chaplin, has a “fantastic” theory that nobody is willing to accept. It causes a suspension and then, his termination. Booted from the force he continues his investigation. This is what we have come to expect from movies such as this, the disgraced officers doggedly pursuing the case. With this bit of familiar territory, it is easier to delve more deeply into the strangeness that is going on.
We learn the detective’s theory (which will not be disclosed here – no spoilers on this one) and embrace it. It makes perfect sense as things progress. We see a map of the killings, and there is the discussion of the territories of hunting. We are shown a glimpse of a world where these strange killings have gone on for over a year. It doesn’t make sense that there what appears to be a handful of police assigned to the case (two), but we can overlook that as part of the films budget as opposed to an actual oversight. We are shown headline after headline about the killings and so we are aware that there must be a public uproar.
Then things get even stranger as we see the second helmeted attacker.
The breathing of the attacker, a steam-like hiss echoing within the metallic confines (of what are probably spray-painted soup cans) is actually very effective. There is a greater sense of menace and we are uncertain if this is the same man in a different disguise, or something wholly different. Is it a partner, a copycat, a rival?
Everything about the killers is so faceless and so anonymous that when we begin to see signs of humanity, it is almost a comfort, almost. When one of the helmets is taken off, the man behind it Is so strange, so broken, that it is hard to conceive that he would be able to function at a high enough level to drive a car (which he does while wearing the helmet…very subtle). With grunts, and shrieks, and a flailing of arms, we are convinced that he is a madman. While effective, it leaves the viewer searching for context through the entire film. Why the murders, why the grisly method of killing, how can they function?
There are a number of things that don’t work, or don’t work well in this movie: the victims, the opening and closing music, some of the “arty” camera work during attacks rather than showing gore, among other items. Despite these flaws, most of the film really does work; it works well. As the movie continues, everything about it improves (except for the victims). The cinematography gets better and better, leading up to a really nicely done shot through a wind-blown plastic tarp. The story begins to twist and turn, deepening the viewer’s confusion and desire for resolution. Things get stranger, and literally left this reviewer on the edge of his seat. The soundtrack, first jarring and poor, eventually begins to become discomforting and agitating to create an appropriate mood to accompany the film.
Every question formed in our heads as the film unfolds, every niggling doubt as to the killers, and to what is going on continually peck at the back of our heads. So often, when one watches a bad movie, a litany of crimes against the viewer builds up. A list that the movie-going audience subconsciously catalogs so that, when they are shown to be right, they can confidently and smugly say that they knew it all along. These are the “Oh come on” moments where the audience despairs and disparages the lead characters for foolish actions. These doubts, these questions all build up to a head and then…
…they are answered. A twist in an already strange tale doesn’t break the suspension of disbelief and ends up working. It brings the movie to a climactic showdown, followed by a pathos-filled wrap up that leaves us not caring about the film’s faults. The ending of the film is original (something that is hard to say these days) and, upon watching a second time, all of the clues are there. We, the audience, are left slack-jawed as the filmmakers take every bit of smugness and ram it back down our throats.
Amongst the cast, the officers working the case, Chaplin, Hatch, and Ward, are all well-played and are deserving of attention. So many details in their performances would be easy to miss if you aren’t watching for them. There are things that you will only notice or pickup on with a second or third viewing. Where the cast really stands apart though is in its boogeymen. Maniacally played by Alan M Crawford and Liam Rowan, their bestial grunting and shrieking, coupled with their animated performances come off as frightfully real. It is only the blooper real under the credits that reassures the views that these men are not mentally challenged or damaged in some way. Their over the top performances pay off in a big way and they are truly the stars of the movie.
Now, this is a low to no budget film. In places that does show. The few effects aren’t great, but they are shot in such a way as to attempt to conceal what is lacking as opposed to throwing it foremost into frame. The movie is not “cheesy goodness”. The movie is not “so bad that it is good”. It simply is a really good little independent film that is better than a number of big studio films I’ve seen of late. While, in places, the movie might have benefited from a big studio budget, the low budget feel is part of the film’s charm. It connects with the viewer and is relatable in a way that a star-filled production just cannot.
While the Blood Harvest might be easy to overlook, it is deserving of an audience and worth a second viewing.
Four out of five stars.