For the most part, Canadian filmmaker Tricia Lee’s third horror feature, Blood Hunters, is an unsurprising, jump-scare packed B-movie designed for heavy rotation as premium cable filler in the not-so-coveted 3:30 to 5:00 am slot. That’s not a knock against Blood Hunters, but rather a statement that should tell the reader of this review whether they’ll like the film or not. It’s certainly not as dire as it could have been, and there are unquestionably far worse films of this ilk that I’ve had to suffer through. There are even traces of ingenuity, inventive gore, and intelligence peppered throughout Lee and screenwriter Corey Brown’s work, but they get lost amid a bunch of clichés and rock bottom budgetary trappings.
After stumbling out of a stash house and passing out, a junkie named Ellie (Lara Gilchrist) awakens in a mysterious medical bunker. All of the attending nurses and doctors have been brutally slaughtered by someone or something that scurries about the halls while making low, guttural noises. Worse than her life or death situation, Ellie notices that she’s extremely far along in a pregnancy she never had before coming into the hospital. Shortly after waking up, she begins connecting with a rogues gallery of fellow survivors: a kind man who gets psychic visions (Benjamin Arthur), a tech consultant harbouring a dark secret (Torri Higginson), a priest harbouring an even darker secret (Julian Richings), and a whip-smart intern who recently had a hand lopped off (Mark Taylor). Ellie learns that she’s not pregnant with a human child, the closed-off bunker is home to some shady experiments, and that the creatures stalking them hate light and are addicted to blood. Wanting desperately to get out of her predicament and back to her actual son in the outside world, Ellie rallies the survivors to find ways of surviving and breaking out of the seemingly inescapable compound.
Lee (Silent Retreat, Clean Break) has a clear love and understanding of genre conventions, openly embracing some ideas that have been done to death, while clearly poking good natured fun at others. Blood Hunters is a film about creatures that stick to the darkness, and yet the filmmaker is constantly finding ways to make sure her film (which is already set in a bunker) is well lit and never murky. She begins the film by having a droning robotic voice announcing that the facility’s auxiliary generator is slowly dying, which is annoying at first, but then thankfully abandoned when someone comes up with a better idea. There’s a plot that’s relatively thin, populated by thin characters who speak using almost instantly forgettable dialogue, and it all hinges on a lot of specifics no one feels too keen on explaining or hearing. It moves fast, but still gets bogged down in having to find new ways to keep everyone in a single location to fit the film’s low budget. It also has to unfortunately find a way around the fact that its monsters all look and move like subpar Silent Hill cosplayers.
Lee and Brown find ways of introducing slivers of subtext, and Blood Hunters could be seen as containing parables on the nature of addiction, motherhood, and the battle between science and belief, but none of those go beyond a surface level. When the reason why this outbreak of creatures has happened is explained, it comes across as laughably stupid, but the illogical nature of it happening also leads to a more satisfying, but predictable double-cross carried out by one of the survivors. Lee and Brown even throw in a Flatliners-esque undercurrent for good measure. It’s never too much for Blood Hunters to handle because Lee and Brown only find ways of stealing slivers from each of their distinct pre-existing influences.
I can see where some people might find certain aspects of Blood Hunters to be scary, and on paper I can even see how one might envision this idea as a good one. In execution, there’s a fair bit to admire about Lee’s work, but precious little that actually scares. But the cast is game, the spirit is willing, and no one wants to drag this out longer than they have to, so Blood Hunters does have a relaxed, unpretentious feeling that sometimes charms the viewer in spite of offering up a story that has been done countless times in the past, both better and worse than this.
Blood Hunters opens at Carlton Cinemas in Toronto on Friday, July 7, 2017. It’s also available on VOD and DVD.
Check out the trailer for Blood Hunters: