There is a tentative relationship between being smart and sharp and unique in storycrafting in indie horror films and just being too clever for your own good. Often, the promise of an interesting setup teeters and then collapses by the third act under the weight of too many good ideas and not enough smart, sound filmmaking. Thankfully this is not the case with debut (feature) director Madellaine Paxson’s Blood Punch: a film that balances the creative with the clever in a refreshing and fun way. The film sits right at the border between the crime noir and horror territories and comfortably fits with either one.
It is an often amusingly bloody, wholly original film about a struggling genius with drug-producing skills, a firmly ground-planted ingenue without the one-dimensional traits of her devious but airheaded film predecessors, a dirty cop barely sane by any measure, a secluded cabin on indian land, a plan to make a load of money on a drug score and a quickly developing love triangle to tie it all together. Is this the summation of the whole film? Not even close.
Much of what makes the film and the story unique is much more fun to discover along the way. If I walked into it knowing the turnabouts it would take, I’d be ready and waiting and not trying to work it all out as it happens. What I can say (with a clear conscience) is that the cabin (site of the drug-making) itself becomes an oasis for our three main characters in a way that none of them truly understand even it if seems like they do. Or they think they do. Or we think they do.
Milo (Milo Cawthorne), the seemingly sweet and smart guy on the wrong side of a drug bust (and path to ‘recovery’) is the film’s anchor. We the start the film with him in a narcotics anonymous-type meeting where he is enticed into this big-score plan by Skyler (Olivia Tennet) after dressing him down about his possible future prospects after his run-in with the law. It probably greases the wheels of deciding to go along with the plan a bit that she does a bit of (un)dressing him too, but we knew that’d be coming. What makes this whole initial setup portion of the film so very enjoyable is the no-frills scheme placed at Milo’s feet. It isn’t complicated. It doesn’t have many moving parts. It just is.
We team up to make the drugs. We all benefit from the selling of said drugs. Everybody wins. No over thinking and no over complicating.
Milo, seeing no practical solution and feeling a strong draw to Skyler signs up for this boldly stupid mistake of a plan (at least for his part anyway) and off they go. Milo meets Sklyer’s crazed bad-cop ex/current/ex-boyfriend Russell (Ari Boyland) who sets Milo’s teeth on edge and makes the whole thing start to feel as crazy as it actually is. From this point forward, you second guess each of these three at different stages of the story. Do you trust them? Who might be playing who? What the hell is actually going on? What’s the story with that first-person video of Milo sans a couple fingers at the start of the film? Why this cabin?
None of these questions are meant to be cute (by me here or by the filmmakers) and the way in which it all unfolds really messes with your sense of understanding of what you’ve been shown. That feeling of thinking you know but in all actuality knowing very little. It is delicate territory because nobody ever wants to be made fun of for ‘missing it’. Blood Punch shows a good deal of respect for its audience and doesn’t fall into that approach. You don’t feel dumb when you don’t get it at spots or you jump to a conclusion later proven wrong. Plus, the film doesn’t play that ‘gotcha’ game either in terms of guessing the next move. If you’re one of those people who try like hell to guess the next thing that happens or how it ends then you’ll have your work cut out for you. Not because it is insanely complicated as much as it is smartly crafted and doesn’t give you too much mystery when you don’t need it and too much giveaway data by which to figure it all out early on.
It takes confidence to tell a story like this without the typical pitfalls of the big reveals. If all you rely on is the audience reaction to an event or a revelation or whatever to carry you through, you often fall short. Blood Punch does none of that and instead lets you get comfortable with each new piece of data right before it changes it up some more. Sometimes it is played for emotion and sometimes it is played for humor but at no point does the film get too pleased with itself to just sit back and go through the motions. It is lively and creative and a stellar first feature for a director I sure want to see more from soon. Here’s hoping the film gets picked up for distribution and we get to see more from Paxson and company.