Appearances can be deceptive, especially in the case of Adam Mason’s psychological thriller Blood River. You’ll be forgiven for expecting something along the lines of Wolf Creek and The Hitcher, but after an all too familiar set up, Blood River turns into a worthy proposition. A successful young married couple are on their way to visit family when they pass a drifter walking cross-country. After a blowout on a desolate stretch of Nevada highway, they arrive at the next town to discover it long abandoned. That’ll be The Hitcher and Wolf Creek covered then. Adam Mason successfully avoids any further comparisons when his storyline takes a devilish twist.
It’s not long before Joseph joins them, the mysterious stranger they passed on the roadside. He takes an immediate shine to Summer (Tess Panzer) and gets on the wrong side of her jealous husband (Ian Duncan) in doing so. Before long his game plan comes to fruition and Summer is played off against suspicious husband Clark. Surface contentment turns sour, dark secrets threaten to emerge and lives unravel in ways you may never expect.
Low budget though it is, with the aid of a very cinematic Nevada backdrop, Adam Mason is able to squeeze the most from his meagre funding. The plot is straightforward enough, and the script serves up just three significant roles, but in keeping it simple Adam Mason allows himself time to deconstruct his characters piece by piece. Make no mistake about it, this is no horror picture, even if the uninspired title suggests otherwise. Blood River favours wordplay over violent death scenes. Sounds dull? It isn’t.
Talking has never been so threatening, especially when it comes from the mouth of award winning actor Andrew Howard. Joseph is the key to the films success, and its Howard’s performance that brings him to life. Menacing, straight talking and utterly compelling, Andrew Howard touches on greatness with a sublime portrayal of the Lords messenger. Tess Panzer and Ian Duncan provide worthy support, but to be totally honest, it’s the man in black who has you hanging on every line.
Blood River changes direction at the halfway point, and it’s a more than welcome departure. Joseph always appears to be one step ahead of the game and the reason for this is made abundantly clear. To reveal anything else would be a crime, but believe me when I tell you it’s well worth the wait. Dark secrets return to haunt our alleged hero and his unsuspecting wife is left to make a harrowing decision.
Your enjoyment of Blood River very much depends upon the expectations you take in with you. Anyone expecting chills and thrills will be disappointed by the lack of blood, guts, murder and mayhem. Blood River is occasionally gruesome, but it doesn’t follow in the footsteps of your favourite slasher film. The tension and torment come from within, and it’s the uncertainty of the situation at hand that keeps you watching. Blood River leans towards David Fincher territory in the final act and that’s no bad thing; Andrew Mason builds slowly and delivers one hell of a shocking denouement.
Slow, thoughtful and deliberate, Blood River is the rarest of finds. Andrew Howard is a revelation here. Had the filmmakers gone for genuine menace over pantomime excess, how great would he have been in the role of Freddy Krueger? Not only is Blood River a tense and traumatic ride, scratch beneath the surface and you’ll discover deep-rooted fear that stems from lofty ambition. Just remember to pack a spare. AW