Now available on DVD
Adriano Luz as Xavier Oliveira Monteiro
Manuela Couto as Helena Oliveira Monteiro
Sara Carinhas as Sofia
JosÃ Afonso Pimentel as Rui
Joâ°o Santos as Ricardo
JosÃ Pinto as Father Vicent
Joâ°o Pedro Vez as Father Cruz
Directed by Tiego Guedes and Frederico Serra
For fans of slow, moody horror, “Bad Blood” (titled “Coisa Ruim” in its home country of Portugal) delivers almost everything one could want: rich, palpable atmosphere; a forbidding, remote location; intriguing characters given life through bold, believable performances.
Whatâs missing? Oh, just the horror.
Respected scholar/urbanite Xavier Monteiro has just inherited an old house in a rural village outside of Lisbon. To the displeasure of his wife and children, Xavier abandons his cosmopolitan lifestyle and transplants the family to the deep country, an alien landscape made up of dying foliage, ancient stone structures, and a notable lack of electrical outlets. Only his eldest son remains behind in the city, hiding behind a veil of academic obligation but clearly harboring some unresolved issues with dad.
Xavier quickly takes to his quiet environs, but comfort continues to elude the rest of the clan, especially his wife, Helena. Troubled not only by the familial tensions simmering inside the home but also startling figures glimpsed in the shadows outside, Helena seeks out the help of Father Cruz, a young priest struggling to bring reason to a village suffocating on its own superstitious lore. Part of that lore involves the very land the Monteiros now call their own, land acquired by the familyâs ancestors via savage means. It is said that the original owner, a simple farmer named Ismael, forever haunts the grounds, seeking revenge for his slaughtered wife and children, imbued with the wrath of God.
Xavier and Helena approach this discovery with intellectual dissection and debate, even jest, but as the familyâs relationship rapidly deteriorates and unsettling events continue to plague them, supernatural intervention seems their only solution.
That intervention does little to solve the inherent problem of the film, however. While “Bad Blood” is a competently assembled collection of strong cinematic elements, the resulting product fails to satisfy as a horror film â or anything else, for that matter â due to its inability to fulfill its promises.
At its outset, the film subtly establishes the notion that something is wrong and itâs about to get worse. Lush cinematography paints a washed-out backdrop that underscores the life and spirit draining from the Monteiro family as they drift apart. The disciples of science and faith draw conversational battle lines in hushed whispers. Characters cast uneasy stares at silent corners, awaiting some approaching, unseen force of presumably ill intent.
But while tensions continue to mount over the course of the film, they never seem to actually go anywhere. Real scares never materialize; just the ubiquitous gust of ghostly wind. Humanityâs capacity for evil, the crux of what passes for horror in the film, is treated as little more than an afterthought.
Instead “Bad Blood” slowly meanders for 85 minutes without any real trajectory, constantly alluding to ideas that it never pursues. The bulk of writer Rodrigo Guedes de Carvalho’s script wisely emphasizes the crumbling relationships within the Monteiro family while merely hinting at a supernatural influence, padded throughout with dry, tedious discussions on the topic of science vs. spirituality. But when these threads finally cross, the results are neither chilling nor enlightening. The film introduces themes ripe for exploration or exploitation (the quiet yet dangerously intimate nature of the village community contrasted with the impersonal comforts of city life; the potentially terrifying power of superstition’s influence), but ultimately abandons all of them in favor of one of the shortest, least convincing sÃ©ance sequences ever filmed and a muddled conclusion involving the death of an almost peripheral character.
All of this unfortunately undermines the efforts of some noticeable talent at work in “Bad Blood,” particularly cinematographer Victor Estevo and the players who trudge diligently through their lines. JosÃ© Afonso Pimentel, who plays the vaguely incestuous elder brother Rui, was even recognized with the 2006 Portuguese Best Actor award (incidentally, the film itself received Best Picture honors, a fact that perhaps better indicates the relative status of the nation’s film industry than the merits of this particular piece).
Taken on their own terms the film’s strengths are solid, but not exceptional. The overall package lacks punch, and without a more significant and satisfactory horror element, one just can’t call “Bad Blood” good.