Blood Moon (2014)

Review first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

When the tricks of genre are starting to seem a little shopworn, sometimes resetting the clock is all that is required to restore the appearance of freshness. The unusual timing of America’s pioneering days, for example, can bring a semblance of novelty to otherwise hackneyed haunted house scenarios (Dead Birds, 2004; An American Haunting, 2005) or a creature feature (The Burrowers, 2008), while the Civil War milieu of, say, Undead or Alive: A Zombedy (2007) or Exit Humanity (2011) breathes new context, and new life, into their otherwise tired zombie shuffle. Through their western setting, all these films slyly insinuate their own chronological priority over the very genre forms that they so slavishly imitate, as though they were the mother source from which all America’s “later” 20th or 21st century horrors, real or imagined, flow, rather than the other way around. Plus, they get to mix it up with oater tropes, in a veritable genre showdown. Throw in some lysergic Jodorowskian visuals, and you might even end up with a horror oddity like Gallowwalkers (2012), as much pre- as post-modern.

All this is something like what Jeremy Wooding’s Blood Moon is trying to do, as it relocates the werewolf mythos to 1887 Colorado and ropes in some Native American ‘skinwalker’ folklore to renew its hairy, hoary hide. Here be monsters – but also bank robberies, gunfights, saloons and stagecoaches, as man-with-no-place Calhoun (Shaun Dooley), looking to all the world like a lost ancestor of Benny from ABBA, finds himself trapped overnight in remote Pine Flats with only murderous outlaws, a priest, a couple of newlyweds, a British journalist and a willing widow for company, and a big bad wolf at the door baying for blood. Fortunately, Calhoun comes with his own animal skin and his own legend.

There is something constantly, nigglingly inauthentic about Blood Moon. Perhaps it is the all-British cast, doing their best to deliver lines from the book of cowboy cliché as though they were natives of the Silver State, in locations that are closer to London than to Denver (it was in fact shot in Kent). None of which need really matter in what is clearly a stylised take on the western, much like Wooding’s UK-set oater pastiche The Magnificent Eleven (2013). The problem is that Blood Moon never appears to be playing for laughs, never really scares, and never cuts it as a western either. Like a postcolonial Navaho warrior exiled from his people and trapped in a silly costume, this film is unable to recover from its own identity crisis, and merely goes through the genre motions.

Anton Bitel