Portuguese film Blood Curse a/k/a Coisa Ruim is deliberately paced, almost entirely free of blood and gore, and functions as much as a psychological study as a horror film, but it's this measured approach and subtlety that sets it apart from much of its genre compatriots. It's not a perfect film, but definitely an interesting one.
Biologist Xavier (Adriano Luz) has inherited a house in rural Portugal and decides to move his family there, away from the hectic day to day life of Lisbon. The isolated house inherited from a distant relative is such a trope in thriller films that the audience knows that something bad is going to happen. Xavier and his wife Lena (Manuela Couto) have three children and one grandchild, the illegitimate son of their daughter Sofia (Sara Carinhas). Everyone adapts to the slower pace and superstitious beliefs of their new environment in varying ways, but none well. The family members are seen by many in the small town as outsiders, and the city culture of the new arrivals is at odds with the rural, slower paced and simpler culture they are now living in. They are already ducks out of water, and the added element of a possible haunting or ancestral curse does not help matters. The backdrop of the story is the disintegration of the family unit, and the mistrust and bitterness that builds up between them.
Though nothing terribly dramatic happens until nearly the end, things are a little off in the house from the very beginning. A baby can be heard crying, but it's not Sofia's son, and the crying stops as soon as someone goes to check on the boy. Voices are heard, and footsteps, and figures are seen where no one should be. Typical haunted house stuff. The really dramatic action is in the deterioration of the relationships. Xavier becomes more and more distant, and skeptical, even while his wife begins to believe that a spiritual agent might be involved. The oldest son Rui (Alfonso Pimentel) becomes downright antisocial, and cruelly grills Sofia about who the father of her child is, terrorizing her with his implicit threat of violence. The youngest son Ricardo (Joao Santos) is perhaps the most affected, and often sees the specters of the long dead children who used to live on that land, and will wander in the woods, distracted.
Lena turns for help to the young priest in town, Fr. Cruz (Joao Pedro Vaz), just out of seminary and himself a little bit of a skeptic. The older priest, Fr. Vincente (Jose Pinto) has seen too much of evil in his long career to be a pure materialist, and he reveals the somewhat troubled history of the house that the family has moved into. Lena's turn to the church for assistance, and her insistence on a séance to find out more, increasingly grates on Xavier's scientific mind, and adds to the feeling of tension and unease that permeate the home.
Blood Curse works on the whole by developing a mood of disquiet, rather than relying on jump scares or other horror film tricks, and it develops this mood quite well, though a few of the music cues are a bit counterproductive. The mood is helped by the deftly drawn and realistic characters, and the fine performances that give them life. The film is all about subtlety, and the rejection of bombast. The characters are distinctive and fully realized, and bear little resemblance to the standard cutouts of most genre fare. The standard storylines and dénouement are rejected, and a more organic, human narrative unfolds. As a result of this, it lacks some of the punch and tension that are normal in horror films today. It moves slowly at times, and very intentionally prefers implication to exposition, leaving events open to various interpretations, and perhaps leading to a measure of confusion. Despite all of that, it is beautifully shot, highlighting the Portuguese countryside in which it is set, beautifully acted and subtly written. Viewers looking for a slam bang good time would be advised to avoid Blood Curse. Those looking for a more contemplative thriller would be well served. Recommended.