Monday, June 27, 2011

Wendigo Meets BLED (2009)

We could just as well call this one "Wendigo Meets FEARNet." Time Warner has just added the horror channel to its Albany cable service. It's just a bit of a ripoff to the extent that you have to pay to get it as part of a "Movie Pass" package, but it's a commercial channel. But I thought it'd be worth the trouble because it'd give us an additional stock of vampire films to work with, including this recent item from director Christopher Hutson, which teaches us that vampirism grows on trees.

Like the even lower-budgeted Vampire Hunter, Bled aspires to class by setting itself in the art-world milieu. In this film the heroine, Sai (Sarah Farooqui) is an artist showing her latest works at a gallery. Her work attracts the attention of a European connoisseur whose voice we'd heard in a prologue discussing the price to be paid for immortality. He introduces himself as Renfield Lee (Jonathan Oldham), and no one thinks twice about it. This is an early hint of how clueless the script by someone called "Svx'leithan Essex" can be. Our mysterious man has been given one of those inside-jokey names that low-budget horror makers are so fond of. We're presumably supposed to snicker, but no one in the actual film reacts as you might expect almost anyone in the real world to react to meeting someone named Renfield. For the viewers, this introduction probably creates some confusion. Isn't this guy the vampire? And he's called Renfield? What gives?

He gives, actually. Impressed by Sai's work, Renfield offers her a rare treat: a branch of a strigoi tree, the red sap of which, we learn, can be cooked heroin-style. Inhale the fumes while cooking and you go pale and enter a strange twilight world that looks like a misty, forested soundstage. If you're a woman, you find yourself wearing a flimsy dress; if you're a guy, you wear pajama bottoms. You may encounter attractive males or females who look like people you know but have deep black eyeballs and talk in echoing, distorted voices -- or you may encounter a fanged, veiny fellow in a grey rubber suit. All of these denizens will try to drink your blood if you spend too much time on your trip. That's why you want someone with you who stays straight and wakes you up if you start acting wacky. The best part: while you're dreaming you can break a branch off the strigoi tree in dreamland, and you get to keep it after you wake up!

Predictably, Sai gets hooked, and her art supposedly improves as a result. Perhaps just as predictably, she tries to get her pals turned on to the strigoi sap. Funny thing, though: the more you use, the more you get a thirst for blood in your normal waking life. To review: this is a movie about people who turn into vampires by smoking boiled sap and dreaming about forest monsters.

You might ask, "How does Renfield Lee benefit from this?" if you haven't forgotten after an hour or so that he's a character in the picture. Once he reappears, looking a little more rugged around the jawline, you might suspect that he's going to fatten up on the vampirized Sai, but his actual master plan is even more indirect. It seems that once your sap-users (let's call them saps) get really far gone, a dimensional portal opens allowing Mr. Rubber Suit from the magical forest to enter the more-or-less real world. Is he the master whom Renfield Lee serves and who rewards Renfield Lee with immortality? No, that's still not it. For when Mr. Rubber Suit appears, Renfield Lee greets him with a smarmy, "Hello, old friend" and stabs him in the back with a syringe. Mr. Rubber Suit doesn't approve of this and is busy throttling Lee while Sai's boyfriend Royce enters the dream-forest in the desperate hope of saving Sai's soul. How thoroughly will Renfield be throttled? Can Sai's soul be saved? We're not telling; we don't want to be the only ones who watched this thing....

Wendigo was left wondering some of the same things I did. For instance, should we assume that Renfield Lee has for centuries been tricking this poor rubber-suit man through the dream portal so he can do his stab-and-siphon trick -- and somehow always manages to get away with it? For Wendigo, this is just the most obvious proof that Bled was not thought through very thoroughly before it was put on film. Whether the writer hadn't really thought it through or was just trying to throw plot twists at us, a low budget is no excuse for a lack of internal logic or at least a convincing mythos.

Bled seems designed to link vampirism to a "decadent" arts scene and draw some of the same parallels with drug use that Abel Ferrara used in The Addiction. As a onetime arts major in college, Wendigo can say with some authority that the artist characters in Bled are absolutely unconvincing. They're caricatures of aspiring artists who display no actual artistic or philosophical consciousness and seem more concerned with how they look than with how their work looks. Wendigo goes so far as to say that the actors are too pretty to be artists -- but what else is new in movies? On the other hand, he'll give the artwork used in the film some credit for some genuine artistry, though he doubts whether they'd draw the prices quoted in the script. At best, they seem like the sort of work Sai should be creating under the influence of Romanian strigoi sap.

Compared to The Addiction, Bled's drug metaphors struck Wendigo as pretty superficial, though it's not implausible for young artists to experiment with mind-altering stuff like Romanian strigoi sap or other means of expanding their consciousness. This movie isn't really about drugs, since the tree branches serve only as a gateway to the strange twilight foresty world that the film's really interested in. If the distinction makes sense, Wendigo would say that Bled is ultimately less about an addiction to blood than about an addiction to the dream of vampiric seduction and transformation. As an outright fantasy, it's an interestingly unique variation on vampire mythos in theory. Otherwise, it's a dud on almost every level. The pretentiously shallow script leaves the actors looking hopeless (though Sarah Farooqui herself looks fairly attractive) and does the writer himself no favors. As bad as the writing was, director Hutson was worse. He fails the essential low-budget test of making the most with limited resources, taking little advantage of the one bit of production design on the forest set. While Wendigo does give the film credit for nice bleaching effects whenever someone smokes the sap, and likes the sharklike teeth the victims develop, little else impressed him visually. Hutson is incapable of infusing the story with any eerieness or excitement outside the increasingly monotonous fantasy forest. He probably had a larger budget than Vampire Hunter had, but everyone involved in Bled seemed to have a lot less enthusiasm or sense of fun at work than the Vampire Hunter team had. If the story and high concept weren't thought out thoroughly, everything else about the production is equally half-assed. Bled may not really be the worst vampire movie Wendigo has seen since we started this series, but he hasn't disliked any of the others nearly as much as he disliked this one. This was a bad first impression for FEARNet to make, but fortunately the station almost immediately redeemed itself, as we'll discuss next week.

No screencaps this time, since we watched it on TV, but here's a big old trailer uploaded to YouTube by nin10doklown. Be advised that what you see here is as erotic as this surprisingly tame movie actually gets.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds totally horrible rather than horrifying. Just for laughs, I'd be interested in Wendigo's opinion of a little comedy/vampire flick available on Netflix called "Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter".