The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - BLOOD VESSEL | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - BLOOD VESSEL

blood vessel review
During WWII, survivors of a torpedoed ship come across a suspiciously abandoned Nazi vessel.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Justin Dix

Starring: Nathan Phillips, Alyssa Sutherland, Robert Taylor, Alex Cooke, Mark Diaco

blood vessel poster

Since as far back as 1922, when Max Schreck's Count Orlok took a trip on a schooner bound for England in FW Murnau's Nosferatu, horror cinema has seen the crew and passengers of numerous seafaring vessels menaced by supernatural monsters. Another popular horror trope is that of Nazis involved in sinister dealings with the paranormal, popularised by Raiders of the Lost Ark and seen as recently as 2018's Overlord. With his second feature, Blood Vessel, Australian director Justin Dix mashes both these sub-genres into a pulpy tale of monsters running riot on a Nazi ship.

It's the closing weeks of WWII and sore losers, the Nazis are enacting a policy of torpedoing any allied ship they come across, regardless of whether it's a naval or merchant vessel. Survivors of one such dastardly attack are huddled together in a dinghy somewhere in the North Atlantic when they come across a Nazi minesweeper. Deciding to take their chances with Gerry rather than die in the water, they attempt to hail the boat, but can't seem to attract anyone's attention. Eventually they manage to climb aboard, only to find an absence of living souls on board.

blood vessel review

What they do find is something resembling the Norwegian outpost of John Carpenter's The Thing, with the charred bodies of the ship's crew freshly stinking of gasoline, some of them strangely contorted and with their veins detached from their flesh, as though trying to escape their bodies. Eventually they come across Newt...err, sorry, Mya (Ruby Isobel Hall), a feral child who speaks Romanian and likes to take bites out of adults. Below decks they find more oddities in a collection of gold bars and plundered artworks, along with what looks an awful lot like a coffin...

If you're looking for a nuanced collection of characters, Blood Vessel isn't the movie for you. Instead, Dix leans into the Boys Own nature of his movie, with a group of protagonists as stereotypical as those you'll find in any back issue of Commando, Battle or Warlord. The multi-national group consists of Sinclair (Nathan Phillips), a gruff but level-headed Aussie; bickering American cooks Jackson (Christopher Kirby) and Bigelow (Mark Diaco); tough as nails Russian Teplov (Alex Cooke); snivelling British coward (you can tell this is an Australian movie, can't you?) Faraday (John Lloyd Fillingham); and token woman Prescott (Alyssa Sutherland, who I believe is meant to be British but who struggles to disguise her Aussie accent).

blood vessel review

Much of the fun comes from how Dix, co-writer Jordan Prosser and the ensemble cast play around with these caricatures. National stereotypes are embraced to the nth degree, particularly in the case of Russki Teplov, with his constant refrain of "I've been through worse" every time he suffers some fresh indignity. There's much bickering among the bunch, most of whom hold prejudices towards the other nationalities. "Convict" is how Faraday dismisses the Aussie Sinclair. "Wanker" is the terse response.

There's a similar lack of subtlety when the monsters eventually show up. After teasing us for over half the movie's running time, Dix finally breaks out a good old-fashioned man in a rubber mask and we're fully into b-movie territory. It's a sign of how po-faced much of the horror genre has become in recent years that we greet Blood Vessel's big baddy's appearance with such surprise. There's a risk of having a modern smart-ass audience laugh off the rubbery effects, but Dix has cleverly established his film's grindhouse tone by that point, so when we eventually learn that there's an ancient creature below decks we simply think "well, of course there is."

blood vessel review

What prevents Blood Vessel from succeeding on the level of a modern monster movie like Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers for example, is how uncomfortable former FX technician Dix seems to be with visual storytelling. There's an awful lot of exposition, most of it coming from Teplov, who as a Slav is designated the expert in all things supernatural here. The movie is lacking in tension and suspense, largely because Dix fails to establish the geography of his confined location, meaning we rarely know where our heroes are in relation to any possible threat.

Blood Vessel boasts enough elements to satisfy more forgiving horror fans, particularly those of us willing to accept some old school silliness. It is however possible for a horror movie to be both silly and scary, so it's a shame Blood Vessel never quite does enough to send any shivers down our spine.

Blood Vessel
 is on Shudder from November 5th.

2020 movie reviews