New Horror Releases: Dry Blood (2019) - Reviewed

With over ten awards currently under its belt, Dry Blood has been making a name for itself in the independent film festival circuit.  Does the film live up to the hype, or was it simply the “least bad” of the nominees?

Dry Blood’s premise might sound familiar to Shining fans: Brian Barnes (Clint Carney) attempts to get sober in a secluded cabin in the mountains.  During his stay, he begins to see gruesome ghosts, forcing him to wonder whether he’s hallucinating from withdrawals, or if something much darker is amiss.  Meanwhile, an offbeat police officer (Kelton Jones) makes frequent visits to the cabin, and Brian starts questioning his intentions.

Supernatural elements aside, this is a small, simple film.  Clint Carney, the lead actor, also wrote, edited, executive produced, and supervised visual effects for it.  Kelton Jones, the second lead, produced and directed it.  It has an intimacy about it that feels like much of the cast and crew knew each other going into the production.  Despite some advantages this dynamic might have, there is also a sense that it was to the film’s detriment in some regards.  However impressive the fact that Carney did nearly everything for this film, he bit off more than he could chew by casting himself as the lead.  We see a mostly one-dimensional performance by him, and when Carney finally shows some range, he cartoonishly overacts. 

You dig my wig?

Nevertheless, Carney’s acting looks superb compared to the film’s least valuable player.  Jaymie Valentine plays Anna, Brian’s friend who attempts to help him get clean.  Once she is introduced to the plot, the film cannot be taken seriously.  She delivers her lines like a drunk Kardashian and has absolutely no chemistry with Carney.  Their friendship seems painfully disingenuous, and worse yet, she makes the film unintentionally comedic.  Ultimately, no character is particularly likeable, and it is difficult for the audience to feel grounded as a result. 

Bad acting aside, Dry Blood does have its merits.  The well-executed travelling camera work in the cabin scenes suggests an otherworldly presence looms around Brian, and seems to pay homage to Evil Dead without being too overt.  Its muted color treatment contrasted against imagery of verdant nature surrounding the cabin sets a mood that is appropriate to the story unfolding.  Furthermore, the makeup and visual effects are genuinely creepy, convincing, and thoughtfully placed; this is unquestionably the film’s strongest asset.

We see here mostly foreboding, sometimes surreal psychological horror, but gorehounds will get their fair share of blood as well, especially as we delve further into Brian’s psyche.  The biggest hurdle for a well-versed horror fan might be not guessing the ending early on, because the film plays heavily on the fact that you are going along for the ride.  It wants you to feel as equally puzzled as Brian by the spectral grisliness he witnesses, and it tries to be clever at its climax in a way that doesn’t quite work if you’ve had an inkling of what might happen halfway through the film.

For all its accolades, Dry Blood is unfortunately a disappointment.  In the grand scheme of things, it is mostly tolerable, but nothing special.  If you can appreciate an average horror film with a handful of well-done effects and not take it too seriously, give it a watch, but don’t dive into it expecting an award-worthy film.

--Andrea Riley