Bleed. 2016. Directed by Tripp Rhame. Screenplay by Ben Jacoby from a story by Rhame.
Starring Chelsey Crisp, Riley Smith, Michael Steger, Lyndon Smith, Brittany Ishibashi, Elimu Nelson, & David Yow.
Not Rated. 82 minutes.
Tripp Rhame’s debut feature Bleed, also known as The Circle, is a mixed-bag of tricks. Some of those tricks work wonders. Some of them are better left in the bag.
There are absolutely a few great aspects to this film. It goes for broke instead of skirting around the edges like some indie horror-thrillers. While it borrows heftily from fare such as Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and others, Bleed has its own energy. There are flaws, there are mistakes and bad choices, but it’s still a decent little flick that has a few scares, a few surprises. The biggest problem with Rhame’s film is that there are too many sub-genres jammed into one, and I can’t help but feel that if the screenplay stuck with trying to put less into one story there would’ve been more coherence all around. Nevertheless, if you want a decent, at times horrifically fun indie horror romp, there are far worse out there and this one will at least creep you out a couple times.
When Sarah (Chelsey Crisp) and husband Matt (Michael Steger) head to their new house out in the backwoods, ready to have a baby, start a new life, they invite some friends out for a getaway. Dave (Elimu Nelson) and Bree (Brittany Ishibashi) arrive for some fun with the couple, as well as Sarah’s brother Eric (Riley Smith) turns up with his new girlfriend Skye (Lyndon Smith).
Aside from the tension between slacker brother and husband, there are other things going on. Eric’s actually a bit of an amateur ghost hunter. So Dave brings up a story about the area; a local legend of a preacher, some sort of Satanic-like believer named Kane (Rajinder Kala). Apparently, he died in a prison fire out in the woods.
After Matt wants to disprove Eric’s nonsense, they all head out to the location of the old prison. This puts them directly in the path of a supernatural entity, the remnants of Kane’s savage spirit, and the halls of the old prison, the woods, they become a possible tomb. Unless the group can somehow manage to survive and find their way out of the darkened woods.
I’m always into any Satanic cult-ish type plots. One of the biggest things I enjoyed during Bleed were the early, brief views of Kane, the horrific preacher. Especially when Eric and Skye are having sex, then all of a sudden she starts seeing Kane thrusting at her, his terrifying face going back and forth. It’s a genuinely eerie moment that unsettled me to the core. Even earlier, when Bree – who suffers from schizophrenia – sees a glance of him sitting in a chair, there’s a definitively strange, scary look to him.
That brings me to another aspect I loved: Bree’s mental illness. Whereas some elements of the screenplay feel too jammed in, not organically grown out of the story or the plot, Bree having schizophrenia added an extra dimension to the ghostly supernatural stuff happening around the group. Because it plays against the mind, making her more susceptible to the ghosts, as she chants to herself – “It‘s not real” – and wanders around the dark hallways of the prison. To be honest, more could’ve been done with this character angle, though, what was done works proper. Earlier in the film, I actually expected she was going to play a larger part in what happens later, so it’s a nice tough in that sense. Keeps you guessing, and definitely make you fearful of what will come next.
On the one hand, I enjoyed Kane, as a character, as a creepy addition to the plot. On the other hand, there were a couple scenes I hated. When Dave comes across Kane in an isolated little room, instead of a vicious kill, something to up the intensity, there’s this very anti-climactic death via supernatural means that I found really took me out of the scene. I would’ve much preferred Kane slaughter him, or even something a bit less cheesy.
Some of my problem with the movie is the pacing. There are times it felt like things were going much too fast. Added to that, the pacing doesn’t help anything when there are too many mixed pieces. The backstory of the town, Sarah, so much of it is ham fisted into the final twenty minutes. Makes a mess of things. Sarah’s entire plot as a character needed more care. They set her up as a main character, but don’t afford her and the plot surrounding her enough time to justify everything in the finale. The end is grim, macabre, though, its impact isn’t enough because of the entire setup, from characters to the story. If things were jammed into 82 minutes, maybe the story would get stretched out appropriately. Instead, there’s like a log jam of ideas and madness near the end that never fully fits in.
This is at beast a 2&1/2 star film. There are too many threads not correctly stitched through Bleed which, in the end, hurt it overall. A few moments are downright creepy, truly scary. At times I was reminded of the recent Last Shift, a flawed film but intensely odd and with great frights. But this was even more flawed, and the end result is too much a mixed-bag to be anything more than mediocre. Hopefully Tripp Rhame continues, he definitely had some working material here, and the Kane story was excellently unnerving. If only the screenplay were tighter. Nonetheless, check it out. It’s a decent little indie, that could certainly have turned out worse. Don’t hold all its messiness against it, still worth watching once.