Blood Red Sky (2021)
Hibernate. Kill. Survive. Dissolve. Transform. Survive.
There’s something to be said for a film that knows exactly what it is and fulfills its remit to the level best of its ability. A lack of pretention plus a command of craft can yield much better results than a big ambitious swing that misses. Which is not to discount ambitious failures — some of my favorite flicks are wild reach-for-the-stars misfires. It’s just that, a lot of the time and for a lot of the audience, a good story well told within their preferred genre is what’s gonna hit the spot on a Friday evening.
So, if you’re a horror fan, get onto Blood Red Sky, which just landed on Netflix. I have no fucking idea what’s going on with the middling reviews showing up on the critical aggregators — this movie is a blast. It’s Snakes on a Plane with vampires, for Christ’s sake — what’s not to love?
In detail, widowed mother Nadja (Peri Baumeister) and her young son Elias (Carl Anton Koch) are on a night flight from Germany to New York City. She’s suffering from some kind of disease — cancer, judging by her bare scalp — and is off to undergo treatment. He, dutiful boy, is handling most of the travel arrangements, including checking in at the airport. Things go awry when the plane is hijacked by a gang of Die Hard-style Eurotrash villains led by Australia’s own Dominic Purcell. One of them, the psychopathic Eightball (a wonderfully theatrical Alexander Scheer, who has a long career ahead of him playing this kind of bad guy, if he wants it), guns Nadja down. Which is a terrible mistake, as we quickly discover that Nadja is a vampire.
So, there’s your high concept right there: maternal vampire on a transatlantic flight battles both ruthless terrorists and her own bloodthirsty instincts, trying not to snack on the other passengers or her own kid. If that sounds like fun, dive on in; this German/UK co-production might run a little longer than strictly necessary but is rarely less than thoroughly entertaining.
Director Peter Thorwarth, who co-wrote the script with Stefan Holtz, makes the most of the film’s central conceit. This is a locked box thriller with the tension relying on clever reversals and the careful revelation of key information. The terrorists are diverting the plane? That means it may well be daylight when they land wherever they’re now headed, which is an issue for our creature-of-darkness heroine. The bad guys are rounding up Muslim passengers? They’re not actually terrorists and are engineering a plausible cover story. A bad guy winds up with a vial of Nadja’s blood? Well, you can see where that’s going …
Blood Red Sky knows what kind of cinematic animal it is, and both pays homage and plays by the rules. There’s a touch of 30 Days of Night (2007) going on, but the real filmic forebear is F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922); Nadja not only resembles Max Schreck’s Count Orlok with her hairless skull and tapered ears (great prosthetic makeup work, by the way) but initially framing her as a disease victim invokes the old silent film’s plague imagery and themes nicely — and let’s face it, in this current age, the notion of someone on a flight carrying a virulent disease has its own grim echoes that help the film hit harder. The violence is suitably nasty, the gore quotient quite high. It’s actually a bit novel to have bad guys who are really hateable, which makes their eventual and inevitable demise so much more satisfying. Purcell’s crew of crims think nothing of capping hostages to punctuate a sentence, so seeing them get torn up is deeply cathartic.
However, Blood Red Sky isn’t flawless. Repeated flashbacks showing how Nadja became a vampire open the film up a bit, taking us outside the tight confines of the plane, but slacken the pace, reduce the claustrophobia, and raise more questions than they answer. The entire final act could be much, much tighter — we run out of story before we run out of spectacle, and it feels like Thorwarth is definitely favoring the latter. And while Carl Anton Koch avoids the pitfalls of most child actors, his precociousness begins to stretch credibility as the film progresses.
Hardly enough to sink the ship, though. Blood Red Sky is a hugely enjoyable high concept gorefest and a hell of a Hollywood calling card to boot (Thorwarth will be on a Marvel flick within two years, mark my words). Anyone after a juicy slice of pop horror should hit play on this one with no reservations.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Travis Johnson