Dark Blood (GFF 2014)

Dark BloodIgnoring the misgivings of their innkeeper, Harry (Jonathan Pryce) and Buffy (Judy Davis) press on into the desert with a faulty car and almost no supplies. They break down in the middle of nowhere, and though Harry insists that they should wait with the car Buffy decides to go in search of assistance. She finds help at a small shack a few miles away, returning to the car with a young widower (River Phoenix) in order to collect her husband. The boy is immediately attracted to Buffy, and tries everything in his power to keep the couple at his barn, where he has made preparations for what he expects to be the end of the world.

When River Phoenix died of a drug overdose in 1993, production on his latest film was only eighty percent complete. Tied up in various contracts and lawsuits for the best part of twenty years, the incomplete film was eventually salvaged by original director George Sluizer who hoped to save it from destruction. In recent years he resolved to finish the film as a tribute to his late star, re-editing the footage and plugging any plot holes with his own narration. The film had its UK premiere at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, with Sluizer in attendance.

What’s immediately striking about Dark Blood is how attractive it looks. The film has clearly been remastered for its theatrical release, and as Harry and Buffy drive through the desert the scenery almost leaps off the screen, the desert intimidating in its enormity. Pryce and Davis have a good rapport, and they ably carry the film through its opening act as their characters meet Karen Black’s hotelier and then as they bicker in the back seat of their broken down car. The first of Sluizer’s voice-overs comes early on, and imparts the necessary information without drawing his audience too far out of the narrative.

Pheonix is undoubtedly the main attraction, however, and from almost the moment he appears onscreen the film takes on an extra volatility. It was Sluizer’s intention to cast an actor against type, and Phoenix is surprisingly edgy as Boy. Armed with a gun and handy with a knife (he carves Kachina dolls, which he attributes with magical powers), Boy is an intimidating presence, his blue-eyed gaze electric as he leads Harry into the wilderness or confronts Buffy in a cave outfitted for the upcoming apocalypse. And those are just the scenes that Sluizer was able to film; his narration hints at an extended introduction to the character which the director identified during the Q&A as his own personal favourite — one to which even his own narration cannot quite do justice.

Dark Blood certainly has a lot of promise, and though still incomplete Sluizer has managed to piece together an interesting film and a fitting encore to Phoenix’s career. Whether we would still be talking about the film in 2014 had Phoenix lived is impossible to say, but as it stands Dark Blood is a powerful and poignant piece of work that all but begs to be seen.

4-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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