Dry Blood, 2018.
Directed by Kelton Jones.
Starring Clint Carney, Jaymie Valentine, Kelton Jones, and Graham Sheldon.
In a rural mountain town, an unstable drug addict must unravel a surreal murder mystery as he’s terrorized by malevolent ghosts, a deranged sheriff, and the frightening hallucinations from his withdrawal.
Throughout horror’s canon, addiction metaphysically represents itself in countless forms. Withdrawl visions, personified monsters, demonic possession – lists scroll on. In Kelton Jones’ Dry Blood, examples one and two push further to show how substance abuse stings more than an afflicted victim. A woodland cabin plays scenic backdrop for Clint Carney’s story about haunting memories that follow those in dire need of sobriety, mixing tragedy with psychotropic trauma via nightmarish cold sweats.
The question is, do Jones and Carney unite to blend Cabin Fever isolation with laments of addicts and a strive to understand better the arduous – complex – process of kicking unhealthy habits?
Carny doubles as the disheveled Brian Barnes, who we meet before another attempt at cold-turkey drinking salvation. Where better to seek refuge than a secluded White Deer Mountain rental lodge co-owned by his ex-wife? Brian phones his companion Anna (Jaymie Valentine) hoping she’ll keep him sane and clean, and she obliges. One man trying to change his life, one compassionate woman who’s heard these claims before. Will this be the visit that saves Brian’s life? Not if he keeps ingesting narcotics in place of alcohol.
There’s a fogginess about Dry Blood that’s both engaging and hard to bypass. Horror comes in the form of nightly appearances by desecrated, abused corpses. Brian establishes a longstanding period of “seeing things” – starting with a curious roadkill story about some half-man/half-deer passenger – which creates a blurred reality where plotted events require tangible questioning. Are decapitated apparitions real, or frazzled fragmentation? As Anna attempts to reconcile between Brian’s disorientation and earthbound existence, interactions become increasingly more disturbed (even violent) but also infinitely harder to sort throughout storytelling.
One such character best embodies these confusions – a cop played by Kelton Jones. The mustachioed sheriff tails Brian from his very first general store encounter, instantly pegging him as trouble. Not a day goes by where the lawman either follows his car, “pops in,” or is seen standing across the forest bungalow. Brian convinces himself the officer is breaking and entering – tormenting the reforming junkie – while the cop carries on this all-grin Super Troopers routine by dropping offhand comments (“Know where I can score some dope?”) followed by naive sidestepping (“I didn’t say anything!”). At times a fun accusatory joust of wits, at others – especially during climactic overflows – exaggerated and lacking developed intent.
Adding to this fantasyland scenario is Jaymie Valentine’s portrayal of Anna, a woman suggested having a romantic history with Brian. Her transfixing, pin-up-doll eyes and head-tilt pout at all times exudes seduction despite her rejection upon multiple advances. Valentine balances supportive wishes with zero tolerance for games as Anna – inquiring about Brian’s habits immediately upon arrival – in a way that grounds an otherwise ethereal realm. The relationship between patient and caretaker responsibly depicted not only in the handling of rehabilitation but also what toll is taken by those closest to struggling users. Anna’s presence alone a danger to herself, but abandonment is not an option.
As Brian spirals, rambling on about the copper taste of dried blood on his tongue and after-dark hallucinations, Carney unhinges and loosens as an actor with no boundaries. Paranoia his language, scripted dialogue not always his friend. Effects work gruesome haunts as undead figures send Brian into cowering, sweaty fits, but an ending full of knife play and a merry-go-round of characters cycling through Brian’s mind spins maniacally out of control. As self-reclamation dissolves faster than Alka-Seltzer tables, so does any semblance of a connected story. Ambition hardly in short order, only at a detriment to continuity as what appears physical is exposed as tricks of manipulated consciousness. Those who enjoy a good drug-fueled freefall may relish the bruising tumble, leaving more structured cinema fans begging for stabilization.
Dry Blood provokes, punishes its characters, but drives into the sunset before messaging lands. Too many genre additives have explored parallel thematic k-holes with more astute reverence. Clint Carney paints a portrait of panic, pain, and an addict’s resolve (“I *want* to feel bad, to feel something”) if only to slide down a toxic downward chute with no bottom. Intriguing by paranormal bounds, mystifying for a spell, but ultimately failed upon an ending that pulls too many trap doors. So begins the cycle anew, just as an addict might. Unfortunately not as impactful in cinematic representation.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).