Written by: Benjamin Hessler
Directed by: Marvin Kren
Starring: Gerhard Liebmann, Edita Malovcic, and Brigitte Kren
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Terror has evolved.
Between Septic Man and Blood Glacier, it’s a good time for movies that sound like shitty SyFy joints but are, in fact, striving to be real, actual movies. That we live in an age where you wouldn’t blink twice at the sight of a bloody glacier wreaking havoc says a lot, and that we’re pleasantly surprised by the earnest attempts says even more. Despite its somewhat goofy title, Blood Glacier is a completely damn serious monster movie that doesn’t hesitate to invite comparisons to some of the genre’s reigning heavyweights, even if it can’t stand in the ring with them.
The film posits a good news/bad news scenario for the year 2014: the good news is that the last climate change skeptics have been silenced (of all the unrealistic things in Blood Glacier, this might be the hardest to swallow). The bad news is that they’ve had no choice but to become a dying breed, as Antarctica and other frigid locales will melt within a decade, and a team of Austrian scientists have posted up in the Swiss Alps to research the phenomena. Supervising the group is Janek (Gerhard Liebmann), a grizzled outdoorsman who communes with nature, especially “his glacier,” which suddenly becomes overrun with blood. Upon inspection, the research team concludes that a mysterious organism has emerged from the ice with the ability to mold, twist, and absorb the genetic material of its host.
With that description, I almost feel contractually obligated to acknowledge Blood Glacier’s primary influence in The Thing. Obviously, there’s no getting around it, not when the film is centered on a bunch of bearded Europeans being terrorized by monsters in a frosty setting. You could do worse when it comes to reference points, of course, and director Marvin Kren is committed to upholding the legacy of Carpenter’s film, at least as it pertains to most of the surface level affectations: Blood Glacier is a mostly practical throwback that values monsters, men, and an icy, desolate atmosphere much like Carpenter did. It perhaps doesn’t value them as intently as the master, but, then again, few films are able to live up to such lofty ambitions—hell, at least Blood Glacier has ambitions.
Chiefly, it’s a fierce creature feature crawling with various predators; while the mysterious organism initially operates as a microbe, it quickly morphs into unholy hybrids of whatever it encounters on its way to the Austrian station. Various crazy critters emerge, from insects to ibexes to giant birds of prey, all of which have been mutated for maximum carnage. For the most part, they’ve also been practically engineered, a welcome sight after being inflicted with the unsightly digital hordes in many recent monster movies. But speaking of good news/bad news: these creatures might be practical, but they’re also barely-seen in all their glory. Typically, such an approach is in the interest of building suspense; here, it’s in the service of masking the inconsistent effects work. Audiences are afforded glimpses and ideas in lieu of frequent full-on glimpses, which, while frustrating, is still preferable to reveling in cheap effects and making a goof of it.
With the exception of a few humorous and nigh-campy bursts (there’s a bit where a character scolds another for eating a banana while crying that may become the film’s immortal calling card), Blood Glacier is a pretty studious character drama, as Janek must confront his ex-girlfriend (and their rocky past) when she visits the station with a group of newcomers. Liebmanm’s performance is the quiet, gruff center of the film, simmering with hints of rage, sorrow, and the soulful qualities of a woodsman. He’s sort of like Jeremiah Johnson, only he’s contending with mutated woodlouses. Most of the film’s powerful moments involve Janek’s personal devastation, including a gut-wrenching episode involving his dog (because Kren’s reverence for The Thing knows no bounds).
The characters surrounding him aren’t completely disposable either. Rather than deal in obnoxious clichés, most of the bunch is well-grounded (though Bridgette Kren does turn in a memorably broad performance) and inhabit a well-realized world that broods with an ominous atmosphere. When the creatures attack, they’re intruding upon a weird, almost Lovecraftian scene that’s intriguing in its creepiness. Unlike the film that obviously inspired it, Blood Glacier doesn’t deal in extraterrestrial terror but rather something more ancient and primal. When there’s no more room at the mountains of madness, hell will flood the Earth, whose wide, barren expanses constantly loom large here and envelop the characters in frozen, barren terrain.
Blood Glacier is a bundle of good intentions like that. Some of them aren’t fully developed , yet the film is a functional eco-horror update. Without resorting to obvious preaching, the film feels like a malformed riff on Day of the Animals and its ilk—mankind’s sins are indicted early on but don’t burden the proceedings, and the ending thoughtfully attempts to weave these larger concerns with the more intimate stakes between the main characters (however outlandish this resolution may be—and it’s pretty far out there). A 2013 festival circuit highlight, the film arrives on home video courtesy of IFC Midnight (a label quickly moving to the forefront of the modern cult scene); save for the film’s trailer, the DVD is barebones but features a nice presentation, with the 5.1 Dolby track immersing audiences in a lively soundstage. By willingly placing itself in the shadow of The Thing, Blood Glacier faces an uphill battle; it might not completely emerge from it, but it’s not for lack of trying, which is more than you can say about the inert prequel/remake of Carpenter’s classic from a few years back. Buy it!
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