One of the fun things about selecting every movie you see for a review series at absolute random five minutes before you actually watch it is that you really have no idea what you're going to be sitting down for until it's actually happening. I turned on 2016's Bleed with the promise of ghosts and a haunted prison. Ghosts are spooky, and hey, prisons are spooky too. That is everything I had going in. Oh lord, if these hands could turn back time...
The first three minutes of this film are actually kind of promising. Foreboding shots of grey landscape and a well shot, eerie scene of two unwashed hicks grumbling at each other over a counter set an interesting tone for the rest of the film. It's a pity that the rest of THIS film lasts until the opening credits, at which point the director kind of stopped caring.
The time is 1979, and some frizzy haired ghost(?) girl wanders in to buy candy. The two yokels notice an odd crescent mark on her arm, she mutters something about an angel punishing them for their sins, and wanders away, the ratty haired one in hot pursuit.
The titles finally hit, accompanied by a jangly, original folk song that makes me think I'm about to head to Forks, Washington. We cut back to our protagonist, a heavily pregnant woman named Sarah stuck in that old horror mainstay of having a flat tire. She is assisted by Sherrif McBeardface, who notices a crescent birth mark on her neck, the same as Frizzy had 30 years earlier. As the sheriff asks about it, I can get the sense that this girl is going to be the hero, considering that so far, she is the only one so far who doesn't mumble through a gravy-thick Georgian accent.
The stage is mostly set; Sarah and her husband Matt have just moved in to a nice house and are settling in to have a kid. They swap some meaningless dialogue that would be utterly pointless if it weren't for the ominous music that drifts over the whole thing. Some racially diverse friends arrive and they fill another quotient for any heavily cliched horror movie: Meaningless jibber jabber to introduce us to the buffet until scariness starts to roll around. A minor plot point about Sarah's friend Bree being a recovering schizophrenic is briefly brought up, and we finally get a little bit of conflict when Sarah's douchebrother, Erik pops up with his lady friend, quickly making it apparent that he plans to move in.
The first half of this movie is a very slow drama piece, with the occasional bit of scary set up like the schizophrenia conversation or an odd bone charm that Erik is wearing. Sarah and Erik, the whitest kids you know, create a little friction with Matt when she writes him a cheque to get him to shut up. Meanwhile, the promise of a little action starts up when Skye slips upstairs to take a bath. Things pay off when some shadowy, Rob Zombie-looking ghost sort of jump cuts into the scene and gives her a minor spook. Matt tries to help when he hears a scream and spots her in the tub and Sarah gets a little catty about her husband peeping in on bathing girls.
The two sort of bumble through a credit card commercial as Sarah talks about the connectivity of things, and the montagy editing of this film starts to overstay it's welcome. There is really nothing to talk about in this movie because nothing is really happening.
Sarah discovers the discarded journal of Frizzy in the attic during a bout of pregnancy cramps that coincides with the gang outside discovering her headstone in her backyard. Over lunch, Erik starts to chat about his drifter lifestyle and I cannot wait for ghosts to eat him. This is compounded by him revealing that he is actually a ghost hunter, inspired by an event from their childhood that Sarah doesn't like to talk about. As kids, Erik and Sarah were attacked by a swarm of butterflies or something, while something else tried to drag Sarah around their bedroom.
Matt calls it all bullshit and Eric sort of inadvertently burns himself and his girlfriend when they talk about pairing up with opposites. On the subject of ghosts, Dave, Bree's boyfriend, brings up an old burned out prison in the mountains that was supposedly the place where a serial killer named Cannibal Kane died. And if that's not enough, it's also an old Indian Burial Ground. And a doll factory/orphanage. And the site of five John Denver Christmas Specials.
Dave and the Ghosthunters are all into the idea, the recovering schizophrenic is understandably cagey, and Matt wants to tag along to prove it's just hogwash and get his wife's dumb brother out of their lives. To his credit, the sensible doctor does not try to bring his expectantly pregnant wife urban spelunking and asks her to pick them up in an hour. Questions start to arise at this point that are not going to go away any time soon. If this ghost man that Skye spotted is actually Kane, why was he at the house? Was he just popping in on the neighbours?
They finally start to poke around the burned remains of the prison that afternoon, stalked by the bloody Rob Zombie ghost the whole time. The Prison set itself is actually pretty cool, clearly shot on location at some abandoned real life spot. I'm starting to think that the filmmakers found this creepy ruined prison, then decided to shoot a movie around it. Which in itself sounds like a much better premise for a bunch of thirty-somethings to be creeping around a haunted prison like a bunch of idiots.
Speaking of such, Erik rapidly commits multiple unforgivable horror movie sins when he suggests that everybody split up and then proceeds to toke up with his girlfriend. Jesus Christ. These fornicators are in for it now.
Sarah drives past some old lady who likes to yell WAAAAAAUUGHH at the forest and is surprised when the ghost of Frizzy pops up in the passenger seat. She gets a spook and ends up swerving off road into a pretty bad crash. And if you think that a capsizing jeep would not be even remotely something that a 9-month pregnant lady could walk away from, you aint seen nothing yet.
As the Ghost Tokers press further into the underground of the prison, the constant graffiti scattered around the set kind of detracts from the isolated atmosphere, reminding the audience that plenty of people have been through here before. They discover some odd satanic-looking shrine filled with weird markings and bloody writing on the wall that says “Sirrahanna”, like some big plot point. Meanwhile, Bree and Dave have another ghostly encounter with hairy ol' Kannibal Kane.
This movie has one trick: it edits in something spooky with a quick musical sting to remind you to be scared. It's not scary, it's startling. It's easy to startle someone, a FLAG can be startling. This is bottom of the barrel attempts at scaring the audience and I will not play this movie's stupid game. I have a review to write.
An Evil Dead camera starts to chase after Matt, who has all but disappeared from this film and the couple downstairs actually begin to push their luck to the very point of absolute ridiculousness and actually start having sex in the middle of the weird sacrificial chamber. This goes as well as you can imagine for these idiots when Skye sees her boyfriend as Kane and slashes him in the throat with a jagged piece of metal, but not, y'know, in a way that would actually injure or kill him. It just seems like a mild inconvenience. As Eric tries to calm the group down while coated in his own blood, his sister trudges home, picked up by some friendly Police Officer Creepman with a burned up face, who offers to pick up her friends up at the prison.
The bad decision counter is overheating at this point as the group at the prison tries to leave, but ends up right back where they came from as the sun sets. Eric reveals that he still has a mini occult bible that he swiped from the sacrificial chamber, Sarah fakes sick to flee from the cops back into the woods after she spots the same symbol from Erik's bone charm on the cop's key chain and Skye tries to leave as well, running right into a hoard of flashlight wielding locals that she does a quick 180 on. Leafing through the book reveals some semblance of a plot, something about a prophecy and a birth. It's all very vague, but are we supposed to think that this is all prearranged? Are all these dorks here for a reason?
Matt grabs a bush axe and just kind of wanders off again while Eric disappears downstairs. Sarah finally arrives at the prison as her brother is actually attempting to commune with the spirits and commit some kind of sacrament, just screaming at ghosts at this point. Skye bails AGAIN, this time running into some baldy that chuckles at her a bit and Mike finally finds another jumpscare that....sucks out his soul, through a hole is his neck? I really don't know what's happening at this point. But you know. Black dude dies first. Goddammit.
Bree is fairing no better, downing anti-psychotics like tic-tacs to keep up with all of this haunted mess before she also gets grabbed by some dudes. Maybe the baldy that grabbed Skye? I don't know. Sarah starts to have flashbacks of Frizzy, who was kidnapped by this weird cult of hicks and died trying to flee out of a second-story window. I guess that they blamed one of their own guys for this? A guy named Kane? Is this supposed to be a twist?
Erik finally meets back up with his sister and reveals that they are definitely tied to this place somehow, having been born the exact date that Frizzy Hair died. They flee from the charging cult and Erik gets shot in the face, so I guess that's the end of that. This whole movie just sort of feels like somebody running through a Halloween spooky theme park or an overly elaborate haunted house attraction, complete with rooms filled gory props and decorations and the occasional actor in a ghost costume to jump out and yell BOO. And hell, Sarah is a remarkably good sprinter for a woman who is nine months pregnant. It kind of takes away the terror of being a heavily pregnant woman in the middle of this horrible situation when it's clear that she is just wearing a pillow under her shirt. Sarah takes refuge in the first sacrifice room and all sense starts to flee this film. She finds out, Redrum-style, that “Sirrahanna” is actually “Anna Harris” backwards! The real name of Frizzy, shock of shocks! And I guess it turned out that Kannibal Kane was actually a good guy this whole time? He says that he intends to protect her, like he tried to protect Anna, and he even has a ghost butterfly of his very own? What does that even mean? What are the butterflies? What does the crescent birth tattoo mean? Is she like a reincarnation of Anna? Why? What is the point of all this?
NONE OF THESE QUESTIONS ARE ANSWERED. Instead she keeps running and finds the torn up bodies of Skye and Bree, who were just murdered off screen I guess (Those crazy rednecks work FAST), and it turns out that Kane was locked in prison for not doing the cults dirty work, then the cops just set him on fire and burned down the prison for something about genetic experiments? It's like this movie is just cramming every single horror trope it can into the last twenty minutes for the sake of it. Sarah is finally captured and the cult starts some messed up ceremony, drawing that same symbol from the bone charm on her belly and looking like they're about to cut the baby out of her.
But then Matt shows up! Yay! And he manages to sort of mess up one guy with his bush axe before the cult immediately dogpiles him and stabs him to death. Thanks a lot buddy. Nice of you to show up for the final minutes. Then Kane smokes in and just goes full Ghost Rider on these guys, tossing them around and setting stuff on fire. If he's a good guy, why did he kill Mike? How come the group couldn't leave the prison if the only paranormal force at work was ultimately (supposedly) benevolent? How is this beat up pregnant woman still running at full tilt through the woods away from all of this crap?
Sarah finally collapses at the road and is picked up by the shrieking old lady from earlier as she starts to go into labour. We get to watch the messy birth scene with Officer Beardface present in some barn, and it turns out these two are also in line with the cult that I guess the whole, loosely defined town is a part of. The baby isn't breathing and the old lady just asks whether Sarah want's her daughter to live. She has a flashback to her talk with Matt for some reason, and says yes.
Beardface cuts her throat, the baby starts to cry, some sort of poorly defined prophecy is fulfilled and the movie finally just sort of dies on us.
The best thing I can say about Bleed is that it's short, clocking in at around 80 minutes. It still felt like a complete waste of time and the first movie of this whole exercise that I absolutely regret watching. This film clumsily switches between the plots of three different horror movies in an attempt at some kind of subversive narrative, but just sort of discards each story with a dozen loose ends dangling off of it that are never addressed again. The characters are dull and shallow, highlighted by the boring front half of the film where we're introduced and reintroduced to all of these people again and again. Any attempt at character arcs are terminated when they are killed off seemingly at random, and the film doesn't even work as a standard slasher flick, as we go through 80% of the film with no clear idea of what the threat really is. It's a mess, give it a pass.