I’ll be the first to admit that Dread Presents has been full of hits or misses for me. For every To Hell and Back, there’s an Extremity, which really didn’t do anything for me. But the one thing I appreciate about the label is its willingness to showcase truly independent films, with all of the luggage they carry. Honestly, if you look at the big picture, it’s a pretty solid year for a first year label. 2019 is looking up for them and because I love the people involved, I really hope this is the year I get really excited for their releases.
But first we have Dry Blood.
It begins with a man, slouched in his car in an alley. The sounds of growling hounds reach a fever pitch in his head until he bolts awake, confused and angry at himself. The man is Brian (Clint Carney, also the writer) and it’s obvious from the get-go that he’s an addict. He calls an ex named Anna (Jaymie Valentine) and leaves her a message about how he’s going to sober up this time. That he’s going to his cabin to get clean. That he really needs her help, as a friend.
He gets to the cabin, which is spacious and looks like it hasn’t been lived in for a long time. After crashing, he goes to the local grocery store where he meets a surly clerk (played by Rob G!) and a cop (Kelton Jones, also the director) who seems to have an intense focus on Brian. Already, Brian is on edge and keeps hearing the cop say things the cop says he didn’t say.
The cop just has a knowing smile and keeps telling Brian that they’re buddies while his hand never leaves his holstered gun. As Brian leaves the store, the cop follows him home, tipping his hat as he passes and flashing a crocodile smile.
But things are about to get worse. Like the addict he is, when Biran finds a blue pill on his car seat, he takes it and things start to get weird. That night, he hears someone taking a shower upstairs and when he goes to investigate, thinking Anna somehow snuck in, he’s confronted by a dead and bloated woman (think The Shining). As his time in the cabin passes, he starts to question everything. The cop continues to harass him. And things get more complicated when Anna shows up.
Is Brian going through withdrawals? Is he using and hallucinating? Is he being haunted by ghosts? By memories of the past? Dry Blood doesn’t really give concrete answers to everything…which isn’t necessarily a complaint. The script is actually pretty solid, stringing clues along at a decent rate to keep you off-kilter and wondering what’s really going on. The score is also a highlight. Scored by System Syn (who Clint is also a member of), it has an electro-industrial flair that reminded me of horror scores from the 80s and 90s and really adds to the atmosphere.
The low point, unfortunately, the acting between the two leads. It’s incredibly uneven and rough at times, to the point that it didn’t surprise me that it was Clint and Jaymie’s first feature role. They lack chemistry and history. Here are two characters who are supposed to have a ton of history, and yet they come across as wooden and robotic in their conversations. That said, Kelton Jones’ cop had an eerie sense of malice that only deepened as the movie continued and Rob Galluzzo was a joy in his limited role; a prototypical horror character done well.
So it speaks to Clint’s writing and the story at the heart of Dry Blood that I was invested, even if I kept getting taken out of the moment. It felt like an indie puzzle box and I’m pretty sure there’s a ton of clues and little moments that are peppered throughout. It was at times very clever and used the limited resources to great effect. Easily the best part were the effects. Considering the budget was probably small, I still found myself amazed at some of the practical effects work and what I imagine was subtle CG.
Even at a slim 83 minutes, it was kind of a slow burn, punctuated with moments of pure tension. The scares were executed incredibly well. There’s one moment, involving the image used for the cover, that legit surprised me and made me sit up in my chair.
As the film transitions into the third act, Dry Blood gets incredibly vicious and bloody. While I wish the character work sold the horror a little better, the effects as the movie goes fully bonkers made up for it. The third act is definitely the strongest, particularly when it relies more on physical acting, and it went in a direction I wasn’t really expecting. I don’t think some of the turns completely worked for me. Maybe I missed some clues or moments, because the ending felt almost a little too vague in regards to some characters.
But this is a decent debut and you can tell that there’s some real heart that went into it. While playing with familiar tropes like addiction and isolation, it has that indie vibe that comes from people doing what they love to do.