Bled is an ambitious, competently acted, good looking film full of good looking people that tries to reinvigorate the tired vampire genre. Unfortunately, the slow pace and poorly developed script prevent it from eliciting much beyond a few creepy moments and a lot of confusion.
The film opens with an impressionistic scene of a woman in red being pursued through a dream like forest by a hideous beast while we hear a voice over discoursing on vanity, immortality and related subjects. The film will return to this location throughout the film. It is not just a dream world, it is a place where one's life can be changed forever, and most likely for the worse. The scene shifts quickly to an art opening, during which the viewer is introduced to most of the main cast.
Sai (Sarah Farooqui) is the painter whose works are on display. She is approached by Renfield, played by Jonathan Oldham, a mysterious man who has purchased one of her paintings and convinces Sai to take him back to her apartment to show him more of her work. This development is met with consternation by Royce (Chris Cevic), a photographer and roommate of Sai's, who is hopelessly in love with her but has failed to actually tell her about his feelings. During the next few minutes, we also meet Kerra (Michele Morrow) and Eric (Alex Petrovitch), also roommates with Sai and Royce.
Once back at the apartment, Renfield sweet talks Sai, and persuades her to partake of the sap of the stregoi tree, of which he has a sample in a box in his pocket. The stregoi sap, when one inhales its smoke, gives insights to one's "hidden desires", and also transports the user to the dream like forest presented at the beginning of the film. Sai, completely trusting this man she barely knows, drinks in the smoke, falls into a convulsion and dreams of being stalked through the undergrowth by a shirtless man who looks suspiciously like Royce.
The stregoi fires up Sai's creativity, and as soon as she wakes up she throws herself into her painting, creating what purport to be astoundingly accomplished artworks reminiscent of the dream world. (Bled falls into the common movie error of talking about works of art produced by a character in glowing terms when the artworks the viewer sees are nothing special. Sai's paintings are competent, but hardly believable as artistic masterworks.) Soon enough, Sai is enticing her roommates to join her in sampling the stregoi. Renfield at this point has dropped out of the film, though it is clear that he has set events in motion for his own nefarious ends. The film proceeds, building romantic tension between Royce and Sai, whose love is blossoming as at the same time Sai is lured deeper and deeper into the dream world, which seems to be slowly transforming her into some kind of vampire. Clearly, this can only end in tears.
Bled has a lot going for it. The production looks quite good, forgiving a few visual problems that are likely unavoidable in a low budget film such as this. Great care has been taken with the sets, in particular the dream forest, which has an otherworldly but very concrete presence. Neither this set nor the shared apartment / loft set feel like they are on a sound stage. Both have a strong sense of place and solidity. The creature and makeup effects are also quite accomplished. The costume for the Incubus (the vampire like creature that lives in the dream forest) is grotesque and lifelike, and does not induce the usual "guy in a suit" groan that is so common in low budget horror. The effects are generally subtle and well executed.
The acting is also good, with a couple of notable exceptions. Oldham as Renfield gives a performance just a few notches too far over the top smarm wise. Since Renfield also has the most melodramatic dialogue, this pushes him into the area of ham quite a few times. Chris Cevic is generally good, but can't reach the emotional level necessary to make the climactic scene between Royce and Sai work. Other than this, the actors create genuinely likeable and intriguing characters.
The film's real downfall is the screenplay. The driving force that would cause these characters to act in the sometimes puzzling ways that they do is never developed. Sure, Sai wants to be a great artist, but the viewer never knows why, nor is given an insight into the depth of her desire. She just sort of likes to paint. Is that enough to cause her to freebase a strange sap offered to her by a man she met twenty minutes previously? It doesn't seem so. (As an aside, this reviewer found it odd that all the characters always had spoons immediately to hand in which to melt the stregoi sap, even when nowhere near a kitchen. They never have to look for a spoon. It is always simply there on the table ready to meet their freebasing needs.) Our main characters often act as if they are totally isolated individuals, unconnected to the outside world, or even the people living in the same apartment. They talk to each other, and go about their business, but seem neither to affect nor be affected by the actions of their compatriots. While the acting is competent, the actors are often asked to do inexplicable or irrational things with little explanation.
This is not the only source of confusion, either. Though Renfield giving the stregoi sap to Sai is obviously part of plan to somehow prolong his life, it is never clear exactly how this is going to work. It has something to do with Sai eventually smoking the sap with Royce, somehow transporting them both bodily to the dream world, but is never fully explained. The worst example comes near the end of the film, in a scene where Renfield, Sai and Royce appear at first to all be in the same (admittedly dark and shadowy) room. A few moments later, however, it seems that Renfield is in a different room, or at least that Royce cannot see him. This may have been a simple error in the editing, but it causes the viewer to take their attention from the film for several moments and reevaluate what it was they were just watching. Also, though the film comes in at slightly over an hour and a half, the pace is very slow. Not much really goes on. A significant portion of the film could have been removed by editing out the large number of meaningful pauses and slow tracking shots, or by speeding up unnecessarily slow line reads. This may have been an effort to set a languorous mood, but it does little to keep the attention of the viewer. This added to the confusing plot and inexplicable character behavior cause enough of a muddle to leave the viewer wondering what the point of it all is.
The film is presented at 1.78:1 and looks quite good for a low budget film. The image is bright and clear in daytime scenes, though sometimes tends to be a bit harsh. During night scenes the shadows on a couple of occasions swallow up and obscure the action, making characters wearing black clothing appear momentarily to be merely a floating head or hands. There is an occasional posterization effect in background colors as well. At several times during the film, areas outside of the center of the image appear blurred and out of focus. It is not evident until the end of the film, when the effect is more prominently used, that this is intentional.
The sound is presented in Dolby digital 5.1 channel, but is not terribly impressive. The sound does not have good separation, and is spread out over all the channels. The subwoofer is sparingly but effectively used. The dialogue is crisp and clearly audible at all times. Audio is available in English only. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
Bled has a large number of mostly unimpressive extras. They are:
Behind the Scenes of Bled
Clocking in at just under three minutes, this simply a montage of short bits of behind the scenes footage, with no voiceover or explanation. Insubstantial.
Two short scenes that were cut from the film, but nothing particularly interesting.
Two and a half minutes showing the audition scenes of the main cast.
Visual Effects of Bled
Just over thirty seconds, this is a set of before and after examples of several CG effects shots.
Mildly interesting, this is a sped up montage of the process of molding and sculpting the Incubus suit and effects. This could have been a fascinating look inside the world of makeup effects but, at 2:17 in length and with no explanatory information, is relatively insubstantial.
Alternate Opening Titles
Exactly what it sounds like, two minutes of an alternate title sequence.
A standard trailer, that succeeds in making Bled appear much more interesting than it actually is.
Also From Lionsgate
A series of trailers for otherwise unrelated Lionsgate releases.
Commentary for the disc is provided by producer Jeffrey Allard, director Christopher Hutson and composer / co-producer Chris Kazmier. This is actually fairly interesting, with these three relating anecdotes from the production and examples of how special effects challenges were overcome. While this is intriguing, it adds little to the overall enjoyment of the disc.
While Bled is a reasonably well executed film, whose cast and crew clearly put forth a considerable effort, the underdeveloped script for which all this effort was spent prevents it from rising above mediocrity. The slow pace, sometimes silly dialogue (at one point, Renfield uses the phrase "this mortal coil" in an entirely non-ironical way, as just one example), and often inexplicable and irrational behavior of the characters hamstrings the otherwise talented actors. The film looks good and displays strong production values, but a slick presentation of average material still leaves us with average material. Even though Bled has many strong points, this reviewer cannot recommend it.