It’s not often that a movie’s run-time doubles as both a strength and a weakness, but Tripp Rhame’s Bleed is one such balancing act. Clocking in at a brisk 1:17, credits included, we’re given a streamlined paranormal story boasting a quick pace, and little background concerning the film’s undead antagonist. Cannibal Kane is a new breed of monster, but unlike Freddy or Jason, his beginning is an unclear mess that’s overlooked in favor of a few jump-scares. Again, because the film runs by so quickly, we get our chills without much investment, yet with more attention paid to lore crafting, this could have been an introduction to a new horror mainstay. Not just a quick, spooky write-off.
Our journey starts with Sarah (Chelsey Crisp) and Matt (Michael Steger), two newlyweds who are celebrating their successful pregnancy with friends. Bree (Brittany Ishibashi) and her boy-toy Dave (Elimu Nelson) drive in to share good vibes with the future parents, while Sarah’s brother Eric (Riley Smith) tells ghost stories and asks for money. Matt grows tired of Eric’s free-living mentality, especially because Sarah (by way of Matt) ends up paying for it. When Eric suggests investigating a burned-down prison that’s supposedly haunted by a local serial killer, Matt sees it as a chance to prove that his brother-in-law’s paranormal theories are bogus nonsense – hopefully.
The unfortunate nature about Bleed is that instances will scare you, while details simultaneously escape. As characters died, part of me remained terrified, but the other part was trying to remember their names. Some characters don’t even get a valiant finale (looking at you, Bree), which cops out through a fade-to-black exit – but, for the most part, there’s an effectively chilling sensation that raises hairs and heart-beats alike. It’s just more surface value, and marred by a half-baked, baby-drama shade of cultish obsession. There’s something MUCH larger going on involving Sarah’s unborn child, the town’s history, and a mysterious birthmark, but it’s all left up to quick interludes that play as hallucinations instigated by fear.
On a stronger note, Cannibal Kane is one grotesque killing machine. His first introductions are a tad cheesy, when he suddenly appears in a puff of smoke like a cut-rate magician, but menace oozes like the blood from Kane’s mouth. He’s a deceased prisoner who kills evil townsfolk who believe in their own brand of backwoods religion, but, at the same time, he kills innocents and can morph into a herd (gaggle?) of butterflies? Rhame spices Bleed up with quick-cut shots of Kane looming in the distance, your typical look-back-and-he’s-there kind of jumps, which strive to beef up a tenser-than-expected horror atmosphere – which unexpectedly works.
Like a baby that needs early coddling, Ben Jacoby’s script suffers from such a fast-paced, right-to-the-point approach by Rhame, and barely manages to tie events together with bits of coherency. Most details are either rushed or glossed over, from Sarah’s childhood supernatural encounter to town-wide cult beliefs, and the movie feels disjointed with each newly thrown-in detail. One minute Kane is just haunting ominously, the next he can turn into a deadly fireball, or spiritual neck-biter. These effects are wicked and expected, but as things happen, we react more with “Why?” than “Whoa!”
That’s my biggest takeaway here – Bleed features a fiendish horror baddie, enthusiastic filmmaking, and a strong enough collection of performances that indie films don’t always provide. That’s the good. The bad? An encompassing story struggles to connect every dot, and gets lost in setting up visual thrills. Horror vets may have a hard time accepting this popcorn-popper kind of genre watch, one that never delves too deep, and squeaks by on being just endearing enough.
Why did the trucker keep driving after Sarah crashes? What’s up with the butterflies? Why can Eric and Sarah see ghosts? What the hell is up with these creepy locals and their etchings? I have no f#cking idea. But I successfully jumped, and cringed when Cannibal Kane illuminated darker themes found hidden in the burned-down prison (a great location find) – and that’s more than I can say about a lot of likeminded titles. Bleed benefits from being short, sweet, and to the horrific point, even with its serious lack of plot exploration.
Bleed is familiar, by-the-numbers horror filmmaking, but it's also short and sweet enough to capitalize on cheap thrills.