“Cocaine is a hell of a drug,” said the late Rick James, and he’s not wrong; humorous as his remark may be in the context of a TV sketch show, horror has always viewed drug addiction as a potent portal to the madness of the mind, and the consequences thereof. Dry Blood (released By Epic Pictures through Dread Central Presents on VOD and Blu-ray January 15th) jumps headfirst into the psychotropic plasma of addiction and ends up as discombobulated as when it starts. It’s what the kids would call a “mindf--k”, and a fascinating one at that.
Brian (screenwriter Clint Carney) starts his day like every other: violently ill from the effects of hard drugs and alcohol. This morning is different, however; he reaches out to his longtime lifeline and ex-paramour Anna (Jaymie Valentine), tells her he’s heading up to his cabin to detox once and for all, and invites her to come up for support. She reluctantly agrees.
Before he heads to the homestead co-owned with his ex-wife, he stops by the local market (clerked by Shock Waves’ Rob Galluzzo) and encounters a sheriff (played by director Kelton Jones), who immediately senses Brian is an addict and begins taunting him: first at the store, then at the cabin. Once Anna arrives, Brian believes that her presence alone will help stabilize his ever-loosening grasp on reality. Certainly the visions of the spectral woman can’t be real, and why does that sheriff keep harassing him? As even Anna furthers herself from Brian and his descent, he’s left alone to figure out the truth behind the specter, the sheriff, and ultimately, himself.
Dry Blood is a grim reminder of the perils of drug abuse without pandering or condescension. Rather, Jones and Carney opt to show and not tell through the eyes of their unreliable narrator, Brian. Any other way would run the risk of talking down to the audience; instead, we are shown what he sees, and left to judge whether they are concrete or mystique. The lines are blurred in a slowly ascending build that hits hard come the final act; lives are possibly lost in one of the most shocking—I say "possibly" because we’re all wearing Brian goggles—scenes I’ve witnessed in a while. But regardless of whether it’s in Brian’s head or not, it happens in front of us.
So, the filmmakers have chosen to go the route of actively integrating the audience into their film; a wise choice really, because as far as the story goes, there isn’t much more to hang a hat on. Dry Blood doesn’t work as a mystery; there simply aren’t enough pieces in play to properly connect them. But I also don’t think it’s designed that way; one gets the feeling that the more Brian tries to put it together, the further it slips through his fingers.
Having the writer and director play the protagonist and antagonist is surely a necessity of budget, but it works very well; Carney is quite likeable as Brian (even when he’s being insufferable towards Anna) and evokes sympathy as he desperately tries to get his life together. Jones' omnipresent grin covers a greasy malevolence that carries the film through any slow moments; whether he’s integral to the story or not, his creepy insistence is very effective. Galluzzo offers up well the few moments of levity the script has to offer, and Valentine has the hardest role of all: observe and react to the insanity around her. She is every lover, mother, father, brother, sister, and child who’s had to deal with the fallout of addiction.
This is not an optimistic film, but in its own bleary-eyed way, it is a realistic one. Addiction is hell not only for the user, but for those it affects around the user; Dry Blood offers no solutions, but mirrors the saddening spiral in unforgettable ways.
Movie Score: 4/5