Brad Anderson's “Blood” wants to serve as both a grisly horror thriller and an exercise in situational ethics. It presents a seemingly impossible situation to viewers and asks them “What would you do?” The problem is that it's never gripping or scary enough to work as the former and never engaging to work as the latter. "Blood" delivers plenty of the titular substance but not much else of note other than a couple of decent scenes here and there; a central performance from Michelle Monaghan is ultimately more interesting than the film surrounding it.
Monaghan plays Jess, a nurse and recovering addict in the throes of a contentious divorce from her husband (Skeet Ulrich). In order to make a fresh start, she moves to the remote farmhouse that belonged to her late parents with her kids, teen daughter Tyler (Skylar Morgan Jones) and young son Owen (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong). The three have hardly settled in when their dog, seemingly fixated on something in the forbidding woods right next door, runs out into the night. A few days later, the dog returns, covered in blood with a weird green gleam in his eye. The dog takes a chomp out of Owen, who is rushed to the hospital. Owen appears to have contracted some infection that leaves him almost at death’s door.
Jess is despairing—worried both about the health of her child and how her ex will use this against her in their divorce—when she enters Owen’s hospital room one day and finds that he has taken the bag of the blood being used for a transfusion and is sucking away at as if it were a juice box. She is revulsed, of course, but when he quickly perks back up immediately afterward only to regress a little while later, she knows what to do. Not telling anyone about Owen’s condition, she sneaks a few bags of blood out of the hospital’s supply and takes him home to care for him away from prying eyes. But the purloined plasma cannot last forever. And when she is no longer able to access the hospital’s blood supply, her determination to keep her son alive forces her into the increasingly desperate acts that probably won’t be commemorated on Mother’s Day cards anytime soon.
The film's basic premise—how far would you go to keep your child alive—is not particularly subtle, I grant you, but it's a grabber. The trouble with the film is that once Will Honley’s screenplay establishes it, it fails to do much of anything of interest with it. We are meant to empathize with Jess and the gruesome lengths that she is forced to go to to keep Owen alive, but her actions are so inconsistent that it is hard to fully get on board with her increasingly messy actions.
Anderson, who has dabbled in the horror genre more successfully in the past with such films as “Session 9,” “The Machinist” and “Vanishing on 7th Street,” directs the material in a competent enough manner for most of the running time. But not even he can make much of the increasingly convoluted plot machinations of the concluding scenes, which are closer to inspiring unintentional laughs than chills, and leave a lot of seemingly pertinent questions unanswered.
And yet, while the film does not succeed, it has a couple of points of interest. The main one is Monaghan, who has done some wonderful work in the past in films such as the cult favorite “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Trucker” (a straightforward indie drama that has certain thematic similarities to “Blood”) but has never quite had the significant star-making role she clearly deserves. This film isn’t it, though she clearly puts her all into the part of Jess. That "Blood" doesn’t fly off the tracks into complete implausibility (at least until the finale) is due almost entirely to her considerable efforts. There are also a couple of scenes that work, at least on an individual basis—in my favorite, Tyler finally learns about her brother’s ghastly secret and the conversation they have as a result has a truth and believability to it that is otherwise absent in the film.
Despite those elements, I cannot recommend “Blood.” But I can point you in the direction of another film that utilizes the same basic premise in a more exciting and thought-provoking manner: “My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To,” an indie horror exercise from Jonathan Cuartas. Cuartas' film works as a spin on the typical vampire mythos and explores the dark and dysfunctional side of family ties that bind and eventually choke. “Blood” raises the same issues but lacks the nerve to explore them meaningfully. Anderson's film often feels like it's in dire need of a creative transfusion.
Michelle Monaghan as Jess