Director Brad Anderson Crafts a Disturbing Narrative in Blood
Jan 31, 2023
The new film Blood features a desperate mother resorting to drastic measures to save her dying child. Michelle Monaghan plays Jess, a recently separated, recovering drug addict who moves her young daughter and son into a rural farm house. Owen (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) gets savagely bitten by his beloved dog after it disappears in the woods; afterwards, doctors don’t understand why he’s not eating or responding to treatment. A horrified Jess finds Owen drinking blood from his IV drip. She’s elated when he recovers, but Owen thirsts for more. Jess will not let her precious son suffer or die.
How far would you go? What boundaries would you cross to get the only sustenance for your sick child? Blood complicates matters with a concerned ex-husband (Skeet Ulrich) trying to get custody of the children. Jess must feed a vampiric urge without revealing Owen’s true condition. This is a difficult task in its own right, but worse when everyone already thinks that she’s an unfit mother. The situation devolves as Owen’s transformation hastens and Jess becomes more ruthless to help him.
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Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, The Call) masterfully crafts a disturbing and heartbreaking narrative with Blood, a genre-defying film that has supernatural elements but isn’t a gory monster movie. Anderson uses a mother’s natural instincts to push her into the unthinkable, creating a character-driven but bold horror-drama as a result. Anderson discusses the harrowing psychological journey of Michelle Monaghan’s character, working with children in very tense scenes, and the challenge of filming on a short schedule during the pandemic, where they were able to complete filming without being shut down.
Blood Pushes it to the Extreme
MovieWeb: Blood is powerfully dramatic and unnerving. Let’s jump on the primary theme of how far a mother will go for her children.
Brad Anderson: I think that’s always what you want to do, right? I push it to the extreme, particularly in a story like this. It’s a mother basically trying to save her child from dying. How far is she willing to go? I think as a parent myself, the thing that I found so compelling was having to make almost a kind of Sophie’s Choice decision. That part of it was the most challenging to do and dramatize. Michelle plays a mother who’s not perfect. She has her own failings, her own flaws, and has to sort of struggle. Those complications make it a more interesting story to tell for sure.
MovieWeb: Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, the young actor that plays Owen, is quite good. He’s being fed blood. It’s so disturbing, but you feel empathy for him. The film takes a darker turn and becomes more violent. Talk about filming those scenes with a child actor.
Brad Anderson: You mean making him do what he had to do in the movie (laughs)? Drink crappy, syrupy sugar water for blood and having them always puke? The kid is good. Finlay, he’s got a future. He gets progressively more addicted. He becomes more of a scary, unsettling kind of character. It was tricky walking him through that. Michelle was very helpful in that regard. She has kids herself. She’s a mom. She was able to guide him through that process. He hasn’t had much experience, but rose to the challenge.
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Brad Anderson: I think that’s another reason I enjoyed doing the movie. It’s great working with people as experienced as Michelle and Skeet. But when you’re working with young actors, like Finlay and Skylar Morgan, who plays his sister, you really get to see these raw talents. You get to shape them, give advice, and help find those moments. It’s very satisfying as a person who’s been in the business for a while.
MovieWeb: Apart from the supernatural aspect, there’s not really a villain. You want to hate the father, but he’s concerned about his children. She was a drug addict and poor mother.
Brad Anderson: Yeah, you hit it on the head. He’s doing what any dad would do. He had a wife with addiction issues. That’s the custody battle. He’s trying to protect his children. They’re both trying to protect their kids, ironically. But the way he sees it, she’s screwed up. He doesn’t know the full story. I don’t think he’s a villain. There is no real villain in the story outside whatever lives in the tree. That’s for you to decide what’s in there.
Brad Anderson: It’s almost like a medical drama about a kid who is infected with some virus. There’s no diet. There’s no treatment. She’s going to do whatever any parent would do, even if it means breaking the rules. I love that dilemma. That’s the meat of the story. It’s not about vampires or monsters. The kid is just a victim of what happened. He’s like an animal that needs to be fed. What she has to do to feed him is definitely crossing the line of what’s ethically and morally acceptable. Just ask the question to any parent in the audience — “What would you do?” It’s a pretty brutal choice.
The Filming and Filmmaking of Blood
MovieWeb: I love your use of darkness and light. The scenes downstairs, where the woman is being held captive, the blood cow, it brought me back to The Machinist. The focus point is lit but everything else is shaded. What is your creative process with the cinematographer?
Brad Anderson: You go into it with a vision, an idea about the tone of the story you’re trying to tell. Björn Charpentier, a great Belgian DP that shot this film, along with a couple of my other movies, we talked about the idea that things can happen in the darkness. Vampires live in the dark. There has to be that element in the story, both literally and figuratively. Then finding those moments where light can come in and highlight a particular moment or a particular thing. It’s subtle.
Brad Anderson: Over the course of the story, it gets progressively darker. The use of color, how we lit certain scenes, like those in the basement — your reference becomes more specific. It starts off kind of normal, gets more weird, and is freaky by the end. Those are all choices you make as a director. I love to flesh out a character, but it’s a collaboration. These are the kinds of movies I seem to be drawn to.
MovieWeb: What’s the best day and worst day on set of Blood?
Brad Anderson: The best day is the last day, because you’ve completed it. We made this movie during COVID. We were actually one of the first features that shot and finished without getting shut down. We shot up in Winnipeg, so there weren’t a lot of cases. We were lucky. Other movies were shooting, many were getting shut down. We managed to get through the whole movie intact. That last day was a big moment of relief. We made it.
Related: Best Performances in Horror Movies in 2022
Brad Anderson: The most stressful day was dealing with the dogs. It’s challenging when you’re dealing with children and animals. There’s action and blood. All of those elements are unpredictable. We didn’t have a long shooting schedule. We had like a night to do all of that business. It was one of those days where [it’s like] “Oh my God, how are we ever going to get all of this done in time? How do you deliver what you really want to make in such little time and so many unpredictable variables?” Dogs don’t often take direction well, and children sometimes don’t either.
Brad Anderson at the Nexus of Horror
MovieWeb: There’s no monster payoff or creature showdown. Was there ever a desire to go in that direction?
Brad Anderson: My tendency or instinct is always to go more subliminal, interpretive, and not be so literal about it. We debated a lot about the tree. The tree became the nexus of horror. Do we add something quite literal in there? Do we see something come out of it? We debated that. It wasn’t in the script. I prefer horror that’s more ambiguous, where you don’t know why things are happening. It crossed our minds, in terms of giving an answer or an explanation. I think the moment you do that in any horror movie, you suck out the thing that makes it so disturbing in the first place. There’s always got to be a little mystery.
Blood will have a theatrical release on January 27th, followed by a VOD debut on the 31st from Vertical Entertainment.
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