The IMDb summary for Blood Vessel offers considerably more scene-setting information than the entire movie, which is really saying something, particularly considering the amount of references to “the war” scattered throughout. Opening with some off-puttingly plaintive music, the camera slowly pans down to focus on a group of shipwrecked people floating aimlessly in a life raft. Suddenly, a hugely inviting-looking Nazi ship looms menacingly into focus. They climb aboard, because the only other option is to die, and soon discover that evil looms within its walls that has nothing to do with swastikas (though there are plenty of those on show, along with other Nazi insignia).
The premise of Blood Vessel is, ostensibly, “vampires on a boat” with the film’s poster screaming it at the top of its lungs. But rather than leaning into the inherent silliness of that idea director Justin Dix and his co-writer Jordan Prosser instead, bafflingly, go the earnest route. This is some dour shit, envisioned as an epic adventure done on a massive scale but, try as they might, Dix and Prosser just cannot convince us that their story, in its current, deadly serious form, is worth paying much attention to. The shadow of war looms large but there’s no real reason to set Blood Vessel in 1945, except to fill the many, many moments when there are no vampires onscreen (one doesn’t show up proper for almost an hour – the film is 90 minutes long).
Everyone in the central group boasts a different accent, but they all blend into this mush of bland, one-note characters, with only the one who looks like Harrison Ford (who doesn’t last long, to be fair), the Black man, and the lone woman standing out. If you’re wondering whether one of them is going to turn out to secretly be a vampire, well, prepare to be disappointed by the lack of risks taken by this particular script about, again, vampires on a boat. At least they don’t take too long making their way onto the ship itself, which is good, but once they do, the action grinds to a complete halt. The fact it takes so long for a vampire to even appear signals how wasted this nutty premise truly is here. Imagine if Snakes on a Plane was actually about taxes or something and you’re halfway there.
Blood Vessel was reportedly filmed aboard a fully-restored WWII ship, which is currently docked in Melbourne but, in spite of the tactility afforded by this wonderful setting, every moment in the water still feels like it was shot in a tank. The ship isn’t lit particularly well, either, which is a real shame, with most scenes taking place in murky darkness. Rather than creating an atmosphere of impending doom, it’s near impossible to tell what’s happening onscreen a lot of the time. Certain sequences are bathed in a blood-red glow, at least, which is the only real stylistic flourish on display here. Obviously, vampires are only active at night, but there’s a way to shoot darkness so we can still see everything – just look at What We Do in the Shadows.
The well-trodden idea of Nazi mysticism is introduced but woefully underdeveloped, much like everything else, from the characters to the setting, while the inclusion of a handy vampire killing kit feels like a holdover from another movie that was actually fun. There’s plenty of (bad) dialogue but not much action. When the vampires do eventually show up, they look pretty great (Dix is an SFX pro himself, unsurprisingly) and super scary but, for whatever reason, they’re still not the focus. They flit in and out of the story, as the other characters continue to stand around talking everything to death. It’s as though Dix and Prosser thought the matter of dealing with wartime PTSD was more pressing than actual bloodsuckers.
The vampires’ powers aren’t clear and their ability to impersonate people is communicated via doing so with someone who isn’t actually on the ship, which means either they’re really dumb or the character that falls for it is. Either way, it’s a nonsensical choice. Why go to the trouble of making them look so terrific if you’re not going to use them properly? The experience of watching Blood Vessel revolves around constantly reminding oneself that the premise is vampires on a boat and THIS is the result. It could’ve been fun, it could’ve been exciting, or it even could’ve been balls to the wall insane. Why do these guys think they’re making bloody 1917? It’s not worth ragging on it too much because there’s so little here, it’s almost like a non-movie.
The performances are fine across the board with no particular standouts though an attempt is made to give the token female a bad ass moment that makes precisely zero narrative sense and lands like a wet fart. No real effort is made to set the scene outside of Nazi set dressing and boring war stories that go on forever, and the characters remain puzzlingly opaque, their motivations unclear and not in the least bit involving. The ship’s endless creaking is a decent mood-setter that should impact the feel of the thing better than it does, but the atmosphere consistently falls flat. Veiny makeup is utilized to show how victims have succumbed to deadly vampire bites and it, along with the SFX in general, is very well done but there just isn’t enough of it.
Blood Vessel could’ve been fun. It could’ve been scary. It could’ve been exciting. It could’ve been anything but the dull, murky slog it turned out to be. At the risk of being glib, this is one ship that never should’ve left the port in the first place.
Catch Blood Vessel on VOD and On-Demand platforms from July 21, 2020
WICKED RATING: 3/10
Director(s): Justin Dix
Writer(s): Justin Dix, Jordan Prosser
Stars: Robert Taylor, Alyssa Sutherland, Nathan Phillips, Christopher Kirby, Alex Cooke
Release date: July 21, 2020 (VOD and On Demand)
Studio/Production Company: Rock Island Films
Run Time: 93 minutes