Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book of Blood (2009)

You’ve either read Clive Barker’s collection of short stories Book of Blood or you haven’t. The film Clive Barker’s Book of Blood, written and directed by John Harrison, is faithfully based on two of Barker’s tales from the book, Book of Blood and On Jerusalem Street, the wrap-around stories of the collection. The good news is that you don’t have necessarily have read the stories to enjoy the grim and ultimately grisly atmosphere of Book of Blood…but you may need some patience to watch the slowly unfolding, yet unique, film. That patience will definitely pay off in the end, though.

The film opens with a bang as a girl is gruesomely murdered by unseen spirits in a large, forebodingly dark house. We then meet paranormal expert Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward) as she is teaching a class on the paranormal, where she meets college student and medium Simon McNeal (Jonas Armstrong). Mary is investigating the very house where the girl was brutally murdered and, since she feels a special connection to her student, invites Simon to assist her.

Mary and her assistant, Reg (Paul Blair), set up cameras and other equipment to record any strange occurrences in the house, and sure enough Simon begins to have violent contact with the spirits. As the sexual tension between Mary and Simon grows and as Simon experiences more and more paranormal activity, they discover that the house is a crossroads for the dead and that the dead want their stories told…

Book of Blood was a tense, enjoyable story, but one that may require some patience to watch. The pacing is pretty slow and scenes can feel repetitive at times. The pacing didn’t bother me too much, because I was too caught up in its unique story and dark atmosphere. I liked that Book of Blood isn’t your typical horror film and tries something different. It’s not every day that the spirits carve their stories into the flesh of a human!

Being a Clive Barker adaptation, I was surprised that this film doesn’t have much gore but plays more like a haunted house/ghost movie. The introduction scene is sufficiently shocking (a very surprising and gruesome “face peel”) and the subsequent scenes featuring spirits writing on their living “Book of Blood” were squirm-inducing. Yet the meat of the film doesn’t offer much blood-letting, instead choosing to focus on the characters and their actions.

I’m not complaining here, though, and really enjoyed seeing the characters develop and reveal their hidden natures. Mary’s obsession with Simon definitely feels a bit taboo in the Electra/Oedipus sense, and there are plenty of steamy sex scenes that titillate and torment both characters and audience. I also liked the unexpected surprises in some of the characters…not is all what it seems!

The movie is ominously wrapped in dark shadows. From the menacing house they are investigating, filled with dark corners, to the gray, overcast skies shown the few instances where the characters are outside, the film’s bleak palette visually conveys its spooky subject matter. The black shadows made me uneasy and really made me wonder about what was lurking within them.

The film’s visual highlight comes toward the end when the veils between our world and the dead’s world are lifted and what we’ve expected to see emerge from the shadows finally come forth. We see the wispy ghosts, eyes as black as the darkest pits in Hell, trudging up from their grim Purgatory to scrawl their stories in blood on Simon. The spirits’ design is both beautiful and frightening, so many props to the film’s visual effects department! I really loved the look of both the ghosts and of their hellish home.

Book of Blood is a highly enjoyable Clive Barker adaptation, but for some horror fans its proceedings might be a bit slow. Nonetheless, if you enjoy a chilling, slow-building ghost story, Book of Blood may be just for you. It doesn’t compromise its values to become a PG-13 horror flick filled with screaming teeny-bopper actors, but sticks to Clive Barker’s original story and high standards to deliver a unique vision of pain. For that alone it definitely deserves the attention of serious horror fans.

Order it on Amazon!

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