What happens when two children’s entertainment scribes (boasting credits such as The Tigger Movie, The Penguins Of Madagascar, Peter Rabbit, and Kim Possible) collaborate on their first feature film? Obviously you get a kid friendly movie titled Blood Punch, filled with death, guts, murder, betrayal – wait, what? You heard right. Director Madellaine Paxson and writer Eddie Guzelian are ditching all that warm and fuzzy bullshit to bring you their own twisted fairy tale about three rowdy criminals forced to repeat the same deadly day over and over again. It’s like kind of like Groundhog Day – a vile, wicked, royally f#cked up Groundhog Day your mum certainly wouldn’t approve of.
It all starts when Milton (Milo Cawthorne), a shy chemistry wiz, meets Skyler (Olivia Tennet), a criminal looking for the best meth cook she can find. After meeting in Milton’s rehab clinic (where else would you find the best junkies?), Skyler utilizes her feminine wiles to coax the master chef into a dirty deal. There’s just one catch – her psychotic boyfriend, Russell (Ari Boyland), completes their criminal trio. Falling into a smitten haze, Milton agrees to the job and finds himself in the middle of nowhere with the drug-dealing couple. But when the tides turn, Russell reveals his plan to leave Milton for dead, which backfires when he ends up taking a crossbow to the back. Thinking the worst is over, Milton buries Russell like the corpse he is. Then he wakes up, only to find Russell alive and kicking with no recollection of his previous state. This is where the real fun begins.
Blood Punch has the vibe of a Bonnie And Clyde criminal romance with a lover’s triangle thrown in the middle, where Olivia Tennet’s womanly charms represent the film’s manipulative, seductive backbone. Tennet’s control is refreshing in a time when most female characters are stuck playing the doe-eyed damsel, because from square one you know Skyler is in complete control of her world. Well, besides the whole time-paradox-regeneration-puzzle, but you get what I’m saying. Despite being the film’s narrator, Milton is nothing but a poor sap being played by Tennet’s luscious lips, pouty eyes, and a wounded exterior meant to lull sympathetic hearts into a defenseless state. It’s very film-noir-y – like the old movies where private detectives were goaded into accepting dangerous cases by a female client with more devious motives, which is somehow a pitch-perfect hybrid of old-school mentalities with modern appeal.
The film isn’t a black and white mystery, though. Eddie Guzelia’s story is essentially a murder scenario with a broken repeat button, which digs up every chaotic twist you can imagine. As Milton and Skyler dissect the clues found through each playback, they inch closer to uncovering the native Chakotay curse currently locking them in a never-ending loop of violence – and it’s bloody fun. Once Blood Punch shifts from being a meth-cooking disaster into a murderous morning routine, Russell’s deaths only escalate to more gleefully gory and enjoyably gruesome levels. From fire to hatchets, from bear traps to grenades, Russell becomes less of a character and more of a rag doll as Blood Punch squeezes every crazy, energetic ounce out of this madcap Twilight Zone-type story.
Madellaine Paxson doesn’t have a single directing credit under her belt, and while I won’t say her inexperience isn’t felt at times, Blood Punch is a stellar – and ambitious – first feature. Between nonlinear plotting and the seam-busting inclusion of so many cinematic genres, Paxson easily could have bitten off more than she can chew. But chew she does, spitting out excess fat at the feet of doubters and haters alike. There are certainly some extremely indie moments, like muffled sound effects and bare locations, but Paxson does her best to liven atmospheres by toying with light, especially in her villain’s disco-themed hanger hideout. It’s an eye for the little details that elevates Blood Punch above more lackluster independent efforts, because creative artistry will always be recognized no matter what a film’s budget may be.
The trio of Cawthorne (who rocks the upcoming Deathgasm as well), Tennet, and Ari Boyland aid Paxson by transferring their shared time on Power Rangers R.P.M into a seamlessly diabolical chemistry. From the get-go, their love-triangle relationship is destined for an absurd explosion told through the tension in each character’s eyes. Milton shows constant hesitation, Skylar submissively tends to her man, but it’s Boyland’s sociopathic turn as Russell that keeps audiences constantly on their toes. Being described as the Devil by Skylar, there’s no telling when his insane caricature of evilness could unleash hell on either companion, and we gladly wait for the fireworks display to erupt. Which they do. Emphatically.
Blood Punch is one of those indie movies you point to when less adventurous movie watchers claim that cinematic originality is dead. Remember in college when you’d make Jungle Juice by throwing whatever liquids you could find into a giant cooler, somehow striking a pleasing balance of ingredients (despite one of those flavors being Listerine)? Somehow Paxson and Guzelian are able to mimic the same surprising success, while challenging audiences to a movie that dares to be different. It’s a (bloody) bold move, but the resulting entertainment is just a reminder of where the biggest ideas in Hollywood are happening – overseas, independently, or anywhere BUT California’s movie hub.
Blood Punch is aggressive, intelligent, and utterly demented - the kind of time-traveling shenanigans that genre fans are going to love.