Directed by: Justin Dix. Starring: Nathan Phillips, Alyssa Sutherland, Christopher Kirby. Runtime: 1h 33 min. Minor spoilers follow.
In Blood Vessel, a group of seven people float on a life raft in the middle of the North Atlantic during World War II after their hospital vessel was destroyed by a German U-boat. Running out of options, they eventually see an abandoned German minesweeper that seems to promise to save them, but then they must deal with the beasts on board.
For anyone who enjoys horror films set during wartime or films that include ghost ships, this film very specifically will appeal to you. The most interesting aspect of this film is just the characters going through the ship and learning what happened – as we see creepy tableaus of people who have died on the ship, who are either covered in blood or are burnt to a crisp, with one of the deceased stuck in a permanent scream. It’s eerie and gross and looks like a wax museum on the North Atlantic.
I will admit I didn’t find our main heroes that compelling, but they feel distinct enough – like Nathan Sinclair (Nathan Phillips) being characterized as a prisoner of war and wanting to see his wife again, who has since moved on. By the way, as an Australian film, Phillips is the only character who is Australian. Everyone else is a variety of nationalities. Alyssa Sutherland as Jane Prescott is strong, and she gets most of the “war will destroy you” moments because of her past. The lone Russian, Alexander Telpov (Alex Cooke), is good here, too, to round out what feels like the core three most important players. There’s nothing about these performances in Blood Vessel that will win awards, but they’re strong enough to get us by in this situational horror.
I liked seeing Christopher Kirby here as Lydell Jackson, and though he arguably is lite on development, he’s a good screen presence. Two wild cards round out the group with the strong-headed Bigelow (Mark Diaco), who will surely make wrong decisions, and a British guy called Faraday (John Lloyd Fillingham), who feels the most expendable because he’s so annoying, but he is supposed to be.
Justin Dix’ film is memorable because of the situational horror, as I liked the concept even though nothing feels necessarily new, making for a solid horror film. It gets gory once we understand what kind-of film it is – the title of the film could let people venture an accurate guess, and the trailer shows it’s a vampire film, so sorry to spoil if you didn’t know. The mythos of the vampire here is interesting and their control over victims, as beasts called “strigoi,” ones that Teplov is familiar with from bedtime stories as a child in Russia. The way the beasts get on the ship, too, which largely relates to the Nazi’s fascination with historical and cultural artifacts during the war, is smart.
There’s some solid horror here that makes the set-up worth the wait as it merely builds atmosphere, and the vampire design looks cool and gnarly. Dix knows how to set these horror scenes up well, though the action horror scenes are more enthralling than the patient, tension-building scenes where someone gets separated from the pack. That’s mostly because that set-up with a beast lurking in the darkness happens to a character that I was happy to see gone.
This Shudder Exclusive began streaming on Shudder in the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom on November 5, 2020.