Blood Curse


Oct 22, 2011

Blood Curse (2006)
Director: Tiago Guedes amd Frederico Serra
Writers: Rodrigo Guedes de Carvalho
Starring: Adriano Luz, Manuela Couto and Sara Carinhas

The Plot: Xavier (Adriano Luz), a professor of sorts, is at a very strange point in his life. A midlife crisis of sorts, Xavier manages to convince his wife Helena (Manuela Couto) and kids to movie away from the city life of Lisbon and take up a new life in an inherited home in the backwoods of Portugal. His family relationships could certainly use some work, and this may be the most opportune time. The oldest son is ready to break away and decides to stay in Lisbon in order to complete college, the youngest son is a bit of a loner who is trying to overcome his fear of the dark, and their teenage daughter feels like a black sheep ever since having a child out of wedlock. Slightly more frightening than all of this family life drama, this strange new community is rife with mystical rumors. The people in this small town believe that the home that Xavier and his family have just moved into may be haunted, and rumors of werewolves and witchery has the small family on edge. Within this new dream home the family find themselves stumbling across strange sights and eerie noises, but what could cause such a haunting? Xavier and his wife Helena will soon find out that this small town has a past that is more haunted than their new home.

The Review
The horror genre is about as diverse a medium as any fictional type can get. Truly it can encompass an endless variety of different conceptual ideas to base a story around, which makes it all the more shameful that some divergences within the genre can be so repetitive (slasher films are the go-to example of this). While the genre isn’t exactly shamed because of a lack of creativity, it does seem that recently filmmakers have been far too concerned with going over previous ideas within the horror genre. The “Grindhouse” effect (faux scratches and grains) can be seen in hundreds of various genre films being produced on the independent level, and even within the world of Hollywood. The horror genre has certainly become very glib and self-congratulatory within certain areas, which is really a shame. Unfortunately, the alternative to this isn’t always as fresh or as keen as we would like. While I would like to congratulate the film we are discussing today, Blood Curse, as a piece of truly original cinema, it is not the very best foot-forward for original filmmaking. While it is most certainly very different from the pack and acquits itself very well with a great sense of style and potential, it unfortunately moves a bit too far away from the medium in order to be fully accepted as a grand piece of horror cinema.

No doubt about it, directors Tiago Guedes amd Frederico Serra wanted to do something very different with the genre. Despite the incredibly “generic” sounding title, these directors do everything that they can to add a sense of class to their production. The film is very “arthouse” in its aesthetic and remains deliberately paced throughout the entire movie. This includes many long takes, awkward camera angles and soft focus shots that pop up throughout this very moody and somber film. While I appreciate the filmmakers showing off the poetry of cinema, they do take this to an extreme at times. The film inevitably seems to draw itself more and more away from the horror genre, only to quickly suck itself back inside during the final ten minutes. The key elements within the film inevitably turn into discussions on faith, superstition, and the turmoil of a community built upon both. These are actually very interesting issues that Blood Curse tackles with a very original eye, but inevitably these elements lead to disappointment throughout due to the film’s inability to make up its mind on just what it wants to be.

Although there are certainly differences in style, with Blood Curse I can’t help but find myself reminded of several Spanish horrors that have become popular within recent years. Blood Curse may be the first film I have ever seen from Portugal, but it seems that the nation has been taking notes when it comes to this influx of Spanish horror within the past decade. There are definitely vague traces of The Devil’s Backbone and The Ophanage found within this film. What makes the work so reminiscent of one another, aside from the very similar post-production color correction, is the slow buildup towards a classic sense of “horror.” Even if the “horror” may inevitably prove to be a false alarm within the context of the movie. These films seem to harken back to horror titles from the seventies and early eighties. These older pieces of horror that I refer to seemed to pay very close attention to detail and atmosphere. Films such as The Changeling, The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby (as well as the previously mentioned Spanish films, by proxy) all had a focus on building up their innate sense of dread before eventually pulling the rug from beneath the audience toward the back end of their film. Unfortunately Blood Curse becomes a bit muddled and doesn’t quite have the commitment one might expect. Despite these things, I must confess, it still remains a very engaging watch.

As I have previously mentioned, the film is very relaxed in its pace. It is so relaxed, in fact, that it almost becomes a detriment. The film does its best to point out the haunted aspects of the family’s new home, but they do so in a very subtle manner that audiences probably won’t remember by the culmination of the film. There are children who show up within the movie, mysteriously, and watch from a distance as the new inhabitants basically remain oblivious. There are sequences where characters hear noises within their new home, only to discover that there was no natural cause for the noise. These sequences are done in such a subtle manner that the creepy factor remains rather toned down throughout. Sure, they work within the moment, but without paranoia developing at an alarming rate, or something happening that is slightly less subtle, the audience will inevitably find it hard to become freaked out by these events themselves. It isn’t really until after one full hour into the movie that we are fully introduced to the evils that haunt this small village and the audience starts to find a grasp on the “horror” that remains in our story. Yet, at that point it becomes hard to tie everything together and actually fascinate a bored audience with only thirty minutes left to conclusively answer all questions AND craft suspense out of nowhere. After all, if the audience isn’t freaked out or paranoid by this point it will be hard for them to become nervous or frightened by the eventual exposition and explanation of whatever ghosts or spirits might haunt our story.

The Conclusion
Although I have done more complaining and backhanded compliments than I ever intended, I must confess that Blood Curse is a terribly impressive film. It looks amazing, the performances are universally outstanding and believe it or not the story is actually engaging. Unfortunately, it all just seems like wasted potential. I would recommend readers check it out for themselves, but I wouldn’t recommend incredibly high expectations. I give it a three out of five. The technical merits alone make it worthy of that. Not bad for the first film I have seen from Portugal. Hopefully it is a promise of better things to come!