“Bad Blood” (2006) – A.J. Hakari

Have you ever been at one of those points where you’re not really mad at somebody, but you’re just really disappointed in them? The Portuguese supernatural chiller Bad Blood has yours truly locked in this position, a cinematic half-nelson that has the awkward ability to drum up as many praiseworthy aspects about it as it does moments that looking at your watch was invented for.

The Montiero clan, led by intellectual husband-and-wife pair Xavier (Adriano Luz) and Lena (Manuela Couto), is making the big jump of moving from the big city to a big old house in the countryside. The transition doesn’t please their kids, who bemoan the immediate lack of Internet and TV, but something even more strange is afoot in their new surroundings. The citizens of a nearby village seem to adhere to a strict religious code, taking such ideas as demons, witches, and the Devil extremely seriously, going so far as to hold regular exorcisms and put solemn stock in what seem to be little more than old wives’ tales to the Montieros. But it’s not long before the family is beset by some strange goings-on, from strange noises emerging from all corners of the house to the oldest son (Afonso Pimentel) having a drastic change in attitude. The Montieros come to believe that maybe the villagers aren’t so superstitious after all, that a centuries-old supernatural force is still lingering around their residence and won’t rest until a past wrong is righted once and for all.

The first thing that came to mind as I was reading the back cover summary of Bad Blood was a sense of dread that this would be a retread of 2004’s misfired horror yukfest Darkness. Both share similar tones and premises, but the comparisons pretty much end there, for as flawed as Bad Blood is, at least it has the tendency to let the viewers know what in the world is going on for at least most of the time. This film is a different beast from other haunted house movies the likes of The Amityville Horror (old and new versions) and The Messengers. Whereas their aims were to essentially serve as funhouses, throwing everything but the kitchen sink out on the screen to scare you before the credits roll, Bad Blood opts to include a bit more thematic strength in how it touches upon both religion and rational explanations for superstitious phenomena. The movie lets you know that it at least has a semblance of a brain on its shoulders, that it’s not one to resort to cheap scare tactics and intends to intrigue the mind rather than overload the senses with jarring editing or screechy orchestra cues.

But as honorable as its intentions are, that’s all that Bad Blood really does with its themes: it just skims them over, briefly bringing up a point or two before letting them disappear into the story. I don’t want to say that the plot is stodgy or lazy in any way; the storytelling just isn’t all there, setting the stage strongly enough but pulling off a surprisingly weak follow-through. I appreciate how the film’s style is tailored to be slow and methodical instead of screaming “OOGAH-BOOGAH!” every two minutes, but there’s a difference between this and letting the plot go on its own tangental jaunt through the tulips. There are times when Bad Blood seems to be existing in its own strange little world, randomly throwing in brief snippets of scenes that don’t really make sense and bringing up such possibilities as werewolves out of nowhere, only to drop the subject just as quickly. This isn’t to say that the movie isn’t involving in the slightest, but directors Tiago Guedes and Frederico Serra let their project amble on just a little too much; don’t be surprised to see that even when the ending credits are fifteen minutes away, the film still hasn’t accomplished much. As far as the acting goes, it’s right in line with the usual haunted house suspects: Luz’s dad is inexplicably adamant on not moving out of the house, Couto’s mom acts worried, and the actors playing their kids all have varying degrees of constant worry spread across their faces.

In short, watching Bad Blood is a lot like hanging out with a stoner. Sure, he says some cool and funny stuff once in a while, but he still smells sort of weird, and he can’t seem to stop talking about pie.

Rating: ★★☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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