Blood Hunters (2016)

“Hello? What did you do to me? Why am I pregnant? I have a son. His name is Hunter. Is he here? Is he ok?”

The speaker is single mother Ellie Barnes (Lara Gilchrist). In the opening scene of Blood Hunters (aka One Drop) we see her collapsing in the street outside her suburban home after preparing and shooting up heroin within. Now she has awoken, strapped to a hospital bed, in a facility full of corpses – and there is something else, scuttling in the dark. The backup generator is running on empty, the lights are dimming, and she has no idea where she is, how she got there, or how she came to be gravid and near bursting with what is inside her.

The horror which unfolds in these shadows is also a high-concept mystery – and viewers will be pondering those very questions along with Ellie. The more genre-savvy among them may congratulate themselves for recognising, early on, an ‘Owl Creek Bridge’ scenario along the lines of Reeker (2005), After (2012) or AfterDeath (2015), all of which played out genre thrills in an existential limbo – but director Tricia Lee (Silent Retreat, Clean Break), working with her regular writer Corey Brown, is a step ahead of us with the tricksy SF plotting, and finds a way to confuse the literal and the metaphorical in a post-mortem place whose status remains ambiguous to the end. Ellie, and the other survivors whom she eventually finds (some patients/’guinea pigs’ like herself, others facility workers), are facing a hell that is the consequence of their past ‘life choices’ – and their only hope for redemption is to make new decisions in the interests of other people’s, rather than their own, futures.

In other words, this creature feature uses the stage of genre to put the spotlight on moral issues – and while the film is not exactly pushing a clerical line, the presence of a priest (Julian Richings’ Father Stewart) as a main character and of a chapel as a key location points to religion as one interpretative frame (science is another) for the ethics and eschatology on display here  – as does the prominence of a virgin birth, and multiple acts of self-sacrifice. For, despite all its against-the-clock dashing about in the dark, with monsters lurking (as in They, Darkness Falls and Vanishing on 7th Street) wherever light is absent, Blood Hunters remains a tale of maternity and martyrdom, as Ellie realises just how much she is willing, Jesus-like, to bleed and suffer for her child – and for the rest of humanity. If all this sounds a tad sentimental – a feeling that Aaron Gilhuis’ melodramatic score serves only to amplify – there is plenty of improvised surgery to bring greater viscerality to these themes. Here it is through pain and corporeal damage that people reconcile themselves to their past life.

© Anton Bitel