In terms of the international cinema scene, one doesn't think of Portugal as a hotbed of horror. Bad Blood (Coisa Ruim, 2006) attempts to change that with a mix of religious, supernatural, and rural frights. It is a good trio of horror themes, the catholic, devil among us scares of The Exorcist, the spook house chills of The Haunting and The Shining, and the backwoods eeriness of Calvaire or Shietan. Instead of being a potent mix of the three, it becomes a diluted melange.
Academic professor Xavier moves his family from the bustling city to the countryside after he inherits a house from a distant relative. Relatives before him in the family line cast off the house, probably his first clue that something was amiss with this small village manor. His family consists of his wife, young son, an older son, his middle child daughter and her born out of wedlock baby.
Culture shock settles in on most everyone, except for Xavier who due to his studious inquisitive nature, enjoys the local folklore and their archaic way of thinking. The townsfolk mostly give them circumspect glances, but the young priest, Father Cruz, is one of a few friendly faces. The area is seeped in superstition and a strong belief in portents and lingering evils, and that is just what Xavier's family encounters, putting his skepticism to the test.
What works in Bad Blood's favor is perfect casting of actors and location. The house and village are effectively odd and realistic without feeling like the careful work of a production designer. As a matter of fact, it all appears pretty untouched. Though closer to what nature intended, in our modern times, these kind of rural areas, backwoods, stuck in time, villages (and being a foreign film just enhances this) are all the more eccentric and open to tapping into those primal fight or flight nerves. There is a great naturalism in all of the actors, Xavier (Adriano Luz), his wife (Manuela Couto), and the kind Father Cruz (João Pedro Vaz) being the standouts.
Technincally proficient. Well cast. Interesting premise (which admittedly I didn't go into much detail about because its an easy to spoil film). But where is the horror? Director's Tiago Guedes and Frederico Serra aim for the understated and subtle so much that they leave you with some pretty basic jump scares- actually calling them jump scares is an overstatement, more like hop scares. We get the occasional bump, disembodied voice, quick ghost hallucination/flash for most of the film, and while it ratchets up the suspense, the finale is a complete, abrupt fizzle. The feeling I was left with was that I had watched a film by some dramatists who were more concerned with the characters and religious/mythological debating than they were the scares. Even in terms of the horror elements logic, it is confused. It centers on characters debating whether the oddness is supernatural or if there is a rational explanation, all the while the suggestion strongly leans towards the supernatural, which deflates the Salem[i]ish[/I] threat of the townspeople and the possibility that the family is just paranoid/crazy.
The DVD: Tartan.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The autumnal setting of the film gives the appearance that the village doesn't see one ray of sunlight that isn't filtered though cloud. Perpetually overcast, so too is the film print which seems extremely weak. Colors are a bit desaturated and the contrast lacks depth, further robbing the film of vibrancy. Likewise, the print exhibits a high grain level and some wear, too much for a film this recent. Technically fine, except for a less than impressive source print.
Sound: Portugese with optional English or Spanish subtitles. 2.0 Stereo, DTS and 5.1 Surround options. In terms of sound it is a winner. Dialogue is spot on and always clear. In terms of the mixing, the dynamics are simple but effective, be it atmospheric fx or the great, lilting, guitar driven score. Initially I thought the effects weren't strong enough because, but afterwards I realized that was more the style of the film aiming for small shudders rather than bone rattling creeps.
Extras: Original Trailer (+ more). -- Making of Bad Blood Featurette (29:51). Interviews with the cast, directors, and writer delve into nearly every aspect of the production, giving brief but thorough insight into the making of the film.
Conclusion: I'm all for smart understated horror, but Bad Blood left me wanting. A technically well made film with a good cast of characters and actors but a premise that just falls short of delivering the kind of supernatural scares fans will be expecting. The DVD is decent, making this one best reserved as a rental