Written by: Scooter Downey, Sean Elliot
Directed by: Scooter Downey
Starring: Lance Henriksen, Sean Elliot and Rose Sirna
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"You have a responsibility to protect the things you love."
During the past decade, several low-budget horror movies have been able to boast the presence of Lance Henriksen, but Itís in the Blood is one of the few that set out to stick him in an honest-to-god movie that actually gives him a chance to work out his acting chops. This is not to say Henriksen has phoned in performances in the dozens of other movies, but, letís be real: most of them asked him to show up, die, and then allow his name to be plastered on the marketing. Itís in the Blood sets out to do a little more than that, and, while itís not always successful, it represents an attempt to tell a story about people and monsters, with the former taking precedence over the latter.
Henriksen is Russell, a washed-up rural Texas sheriff with an estranged relationship with his son, October (Sean Elliot). When October returns to this childhood home, the two find themselves a little uneasy and at odds with each other due to the death of Iris (Rose Sirna), Russellís adopted daughter who went on to also become Octoberís lover when the two grew up. Despite the initial tension, the two head out for a retreat in the woods, only to be confronted by some mysterious monster prowling about in the woods.
But that isnít the meat of the story here--no, Itís in the Blood isnít really a creature feature in the traditional sense. Instead, itís more interested in plumbing the depths of these two charactersí history. What feels like the main action (Elliot and Henriksen surviving against a monster) is constantly interspersed with flashbacks that fill in the blanks as to how the two got to this point. Itís a dual narrative, as both stories unfold in parallel fashion throughout the film until both climax; the structure is a bit of a mixed bag since the flashbacks are inherently more intriguing since they reveal the mystery behind Irisís death, whereas the present day narrative is just sort of a standard monster movie, albeit one anchored by two solid characters.
At times, it feels like Itís in the Blood could be two separate movies based on these two threads, or at least one where the back-story gets more quickly filled in before moving on to the monster movie portion. With the two unfolding simultaneously, the entire narrative feels a little inert, particularly since the flashbacks are more interesting. The two ultimately function together just fine, but thereís no ďeureka!Ē moment that ties the two together in any compelling or surprising fashion; the backstory can be pretty well guessed at as soon as a creepy stranger (Jimmy Gonzales) enters the picture and subtly terrorizes October and Iris. While there is a revelatory moment that reveals the source of the tension between father and son, it doesnít quite click in with the monster itself, which ends up serving as an obvious and almost literalized metaphor for the figurative demons that have haunted the two. At the very least, the film thankfully doesnít succumb to the hackneyed route of having the creature serve as a physical manifestation for either characterís guilt or rage. Itís in the Blood is a straight-shooter in this regard, as it pits two guys against a supernatural creature and asks you to go with it before cleverly focusing on the psychological drama underpinning it all.
The monster stuff is wonderfully and atmospherically handled, at any rate; the creatureís screen time is relatively scarce but effective. Constantly shrouded by mist or the surrounding woods, itís (rightfully) rarely glimpsed until the climax, so director Scooter Downey and co-writer Elliot show command of suspense and tension building. Even more striking is his ability to allow the actors to carry the film through their performances. Itís in the Blood is hardly a flashy, overly kinetic film that attempts to bludgeon your sensibilities, as its gore is calculated and impacting, especially a squirm inducing leg injury that results in Henriksen spending most of the movie slumped against a tree. It hardly matters, though, as Henriksen delivers a fantastically layered performance that paints a three-dimensional portrait of a man who is broken but not pathetic, gruff, but not without his charms. Heís introduced into the film when he coldly shoots a dog out of its misery before heís seen simulating an orgasm as he teaches October how to drive a stick shift, itís a natural transition since Henriksen is so eased into the role.
Likewise, the chemistry between him and Elliot has a lived-in, believable quality, not only due to the actorsí turns, but also because the script doesnít relent to overcooked and ham-fisted clichťs. Friction obviously exists between the two, but itís not so overbearing that the two canít share moments of levity before the shit starts to truly hit the fan. I like that the two really only need to meet halfway--they donít need to fill some cavernous schism thatís separating them. For any type of drama to be effective--whether itís psychological or survival--the characters and their drama need to be compelling, and Downey and Elliot understand this much.
The film is also well-crafted enough to operate as a horror movie; from the outset, the moody and somber photography efficiently relays the charactersí inner desolation and despair. You could do much worse than these locations, too, as the rustic, rural vibe overhanging Itís in the Blood is palatable. Russell practically lives out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the woods and creepy, dilapidated shacks, and he and October only manage to stumble into more untamed and isolated wilderness. I suppose the film reminds me of The Descent, right down to that grisly leg injury and the inhuman reflections of personal turmoil that eventually haunt the protagonists. Thatís pretty good company to be in--after all, there are hordes of creature features and monster movies out there (hell, Henriksenís probably starred in a dozen of those), but few of them explore the space beyond the surface level horror of being attacked by monsters. Itís in the Blood does that by looking inward and observing its characters--itís a little uneven due to its structure, but itís a commendable stab at a distinctive carving within a niche that could use some more cool notches. Buy it!
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