Director: Justin Dix
Starring: Alyssa Sutherland, Nathan Phillips, Christopher Kirby, Alex Cooke, Mark Diaco, John Lloyd Fillingham
Run Time: 93mins
Vampires are rarely out of fashion but it seems like they are having a particularly strong year in 2020 with the likes of “Ten Minutes to Midnight”, “Climate of the Hunter”, “Vampires vs the Bronx” and Shudder’s exclusive “Bliss” all proving to be critical hits and now we have another vamp flick hitting Shudder in World War II-set “Blood Vessel.” Can it standout from this impressive crowd? Well, not really, but that doesn’t mean Justin Dix’s latest directorial effort (his first since 2012’s Crawlspace) is not without its joys.
The film opens with a rag-tag group from the allied forces stranded on a lifeboat without food or water. Until they spot a ship who could be their saviour. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a Nazi ship, although curiously when they get on board it appears to be abandoned (you can see where this is going) and our gang set out to find out what happened on the ship. Of course, it is not long before they find several dead crew members who all seem to have met bizarrely horrible ends.
As set-ups go, it is not particularly original. But then not much is here, as there are several generic elements in terms of plot and characters. Our group of survivors being a kind of collection of cultural stereotypes comprising: a straight-talking Aussie (Nathan Phillips), a motor-mouthed Italian-American (Mark Diaco), a tough-but-noble African American (Christopher Kirby), a prim-but-firm English nurse (Alyssa Sutherland), a nebbish British code breaker (John Lloyd Fillingham) and a stolid Russian (Alex Cooke).
Thankfully, most of the performances go some way to offset this. With Philips, Sutherland, and Cooke standing out (despite the latter’s somewhat over-baked Russian accent). Each imbuing the character with an extra dimension lacking from the script.
Talking of the script there is at-times a by-numbers feel to proceedings as we, of course, get the obligatory scene of the men in the group comparing war wounds and the usual derivative backstories of those they left back home before going to war. There is also the standard generic “those wacky Nazi’s tinkering with the occult” type stuff that has been in countless films now.
Despite these deficiencies, there are a number of strengths here too. First off, Dix certainly knows how to build an atmosphere. As although the action does not properly kick in till around the 50-min mark, things never feel boring. Sure there may a few too many scenes of our protagonists squabbling but they are, for the most part, a rootable bunch. Plus Dix’s keeps the tension high and makes the ship feel appropriately gloomy and claustrophobic. You are constantly aware as the group finds another charred Nazi that things could kick off any moment.
The slow pressure-cooker build pays off too, as when we do get into the Vampire action (although the v-word is never actually used) there are several satisfyingly gory set-pieces. Plus, unsurprisingly given Dix background in props, the practical effects are great. Also, the vampires themselves have a cool old-school design, particularly The Patriarch who is very much in the monstrous vampire mould with his large bat-head and long Nosferatu-like talons.
Overall: It may be mired in clichés and add nothing new to the Vampire movie but “Blood Vessel” is still a tautly paced, decently acted, effectively gory affair. Plus, it has a pleasingly pulpy B-Movie vibe making it perfect Friday night viewing.
You can watch "Blood Vessel" on Shudder here