After a near-fatal crash in the middle of the desert, Clark and his pregnant wife Summer walk to the nearest town, Blood River, in search of help. There they encounter Joseph (Andrew Howard), who offers assistance, but tensions soon mount when the couple's relationship becomes strained, leaving them vulnerable to Joseph's sinister agenda... Bloody and brutal, Adam Mason's Blood River is a twisted, nerve-shredding thriller that will chill you to the core.
Well. Here’s a film guaranteed to infuriate those who don’t like open-ended stories, because this provides no real answers, even at the end. Beware the following spoilers, which really will soften the impact of ‘Blood River…’
Happy newlyweds Clark (Ian Duncan) and Summer (Tess Panzer) are stranded in the middle of the Nevada desert after their car suffers a blow-out. Looking in the boot/trunk, Clark is dumbfounded to find the spare tyre is no longer there. Some swirling camera work really does convey how desolate the location is, and how far away from civilisation the two characters are.
They make their weary way back to a cluster of abandoned buildings, where a drifter cowboy, Joseph (Andrew Howard) arrives and immediately impresses Summer, who is pregnant, with his forceful personality. Although Clark is angered and intimidated by this, the two of them agree to traipse back to the car to ‘siphon off the gas’, leaving Summer to discover a room full of photographs, where the various subjects have their eyes blanked out. Among their number is a picture of Summer, Clark and Benny (Summer’s elder child). Startlingly, she turns to see Joseph standing behind her, where he explains he is a kind of angel of retribution, and that her unborn child is his now. Only minutes earlier, Joseph was with Clark at the car, some five miles away … and in the boot/trunk was the body of Benny.
Initially, Joseph’s proclamations of angelic status seem as ridiculous as his accusations of Clark’s alleged ‘sin’ – the ravings of an outcast – but slowly, it seems likely that he may be telling the truth. Quite what sin Clark is guilty of we’re not sure. The body of the child in the car was not there earlier, and is likely a metaphor for Clark’s benefit. Summer’s crime, the reason for her punishment, is the sin of apathy – she knew what was going on and did nothing about it.
Child abuse, or child-murder, seems likely, although never remotely specified – such things are left to the viewer. Murder is improbable, as Benny’s photograph is unblemished when Joseph hands it back to Summer. The wounds inflicted on Joseph by an enraged Clark also disappear, including the re-growing of three removed fingers, indicating that everything Joseph has said is true.
With such a lot of questions unanswered, Joseph is next seen disappearing into the distance having been given a lift by what is presumably the next ‘sinner’. As he says in a voice-over epilogue, ‘when you meet up with me, it is already too late.’
This is a fascinating, harrowing and intimate portrayal of disintegrating trust and the horror of realisation, beautifully shot and intensely acted. Far from being benign, Joseph’s retribution is merciless – an early scene with a flirtatious Inn Keeper seems to paint him as just another lunatic slasher, although the woman (Sarah Essex) seems accepting of her punishment. This, in retrospect, is a clue. Close attention is required - but don’t expect any clear answers.
Andrew Howard in particular is extremely powerful as Joseph. If there are any prosthetics on display, they are very subtle. And yet as his enigmatic persona becomes more convincing, he appears not quite/more than human in certain scenes. The glistening eyes and lack of eyebrows add a certain inhuman menace to his fury.