It’s been a hot minute since we last visited Canadian horror film festival Blood in the Snow. Back in 2020 it gave us the superb trio of Bloodthirsty, Come True and For the Sake of Vicious, so we were hoping for big things this year. Sadly, this year’s crop of films has been a real mixed bag. Still, that’s the joy of a festival – the opportunity to sample lots of different things, and as the saying goes, they can’t all be winners. We picked four films to have a peek at this year, starting with Barrett Burgin’s locked-room-mystery Cryo…
Five scientists awake from cryogenic suspension to find themselves alone inside an underground facility. The door to the outside world is ominously sealed. They have little food or water, and none of them can remember exactly who they are or why they’re down here. Little by little, they begin to learn that things might not be going according to plan. Why is there a machete buried in that door? Where did that ominous pool of blood come from, and most importantly – when the pods can only be manually activated from outside, who let them out of the pods to begin with?
Cryo is a decent little mystery movie that eventually morphs into an examination of memory and how much it shapes us and dictates our actions. Is it really true those who cannot learn from the past end up doomed to repeat it? The biggest issue Cryo has is that it has no business being nearly two hours long. The set is really well done, ominous and slightly claustrophobic. The acting is good as well, with a particular shout out for the character of “The Engineer”, played by Curt Doussett (Phil of the Future, Saints and Soldiers). The problem is there are only so many times characters can walk down dark halls or peer into empty rooms or muse over the unjustness of their fate and how they can’t remember things before it starts to drag. Cryo would have benefitted from a somewhat more aggressive editor chopping half an hour off that runtime.
READ MORE: Access All Areas – Documentary Review
The Curse of Aurore
The Curse of Aurore sounded promising. There are some great found-footage style horror films out there for fans of the genre and it’s always great to see more. But for every Hell House LLC or Grave Encounters, you have an Area 51, Paranormal Activity or, well, The Curse of Aurore. The framing device is that of someone investigating a “dark web mystery box” which, in this instance, contains a doll with a USB thumb drive around its neck. The film is presented as showing the contents of this drive.
We, the audience, follow along with a trio of filmmakers who have set out to rural Quebec to work on a movie. While there they learn about the death of a child called Aurore and begin to work on making a film about her death. Their investigation is hampered by a town full of locals who seem reluctant to work with them and, in some cases, are downright hostile towards them. The setup is tantalising. A child’s murder, strange goings-on in the middle of the night, a potentially haunted house with flashes of something menacing… but instead the film is 70 minutes of not a whole lot, followed by 10 minutes of action and violence, and then the credits roll. There’s just no real sense of tension or dread to be found here to help carry it along and when things ultimately go to hell in a handcart, it elicits a “Oh. Oh well. Sucks to be you” rather than anything else.
Our main cast are just sort of… there, and the audience aren’t given a whole lot to work with in terms of sympathising or identifying with them. One of them has a moon boot on to protect her leg after she tore her cruciate, another is a kleptomaniac who can’t help but steal from the residents of the town, and the third is just a bit of a non-entity. His main personality trait seems to be “being a buzzkill” around the others. A disappointing addition to the genre that does little to make itself stand out.
Next is Dark Nature, directed by Berkley Brady (Blow Out, The Secret History of: The Wild West). It’s the story of domestic abuse survivor Joy (Hannah Emily Anderson – Reign, Jigsaw), who along with her best friend Carmen (Madison Walsh – Something Undone, The Expanse), embarks on a women’s weekend retreat out in the wilds of the Canadian wilderness. What starts off as a potentially uncomfortable weekend of clashing personalities and “who’s the most traumatised?” devolves instead into a fight for survival as the women run into something that’s all too happy to relieve them of their trauma and survivor’s guilt through the medium of teeth, claws and blood.
The setup here is promising, but the ending is frustratingly unsatisfying. It’s another of these films that offers lots of questions, but doesn’t try to answer any of them. What did the thing in the cave have to do with the visions? Was there something wrong with the water? The air? Was all this some weird hallucination and actually there was no monster at all and they just killed each other? None of these questions will be answered so… oh well.
Story complaints aside, the acting is all pretty decent here, and the practical effects on display are really well done, with some of the gore effects and creature makeup being truly… squishy. Unfortunately, it’s held back by not only a story that doesn’t entirely gel but also its insistence on making so many of the characters unlikable, with the cast bickering and needling each other within moments of appearing on screen. I’ll never understand films that make their characters so unpleasant to be around that the audience doesn’t care what happens to them.
READ MORE: We Joined the Navy (1962) – Blu-ray Review
The Devil Comes at Night
Finally, there’s The Devil Comes at Night from director Scott Leaver (Fare Trade, Open Heart Burglary) and it is hands-down the standout from this little selection. It tells the story of Ben (Ryan Allen – Tokens, Five Days at Memorial), who has come back to his dead father’s place. He’s not in search of reconciliation or memorabilia, but the contents of his father’s safe. Things go off the rails fairly quickly after he gets involved in a bar fight with a racist redneck. Waking up in his father’s house he finds a cryptic note in his pocket from his friend Jack that warns him to keep all the lights off, and stay quiet. He does neither of these things, because otherwise it would be a short and boring film.
Finding himself under siege from unhinged and murderous neighbours led by the cold and menacing Mason (Jason Martorino – Bad Blood, Nikita), Ben must unravel the mystery of just why they want him dead, why they can’t come into the house, and exactly what his father is keeping in his safe.
Of the four Blood in the Snow films seen this year, this one is the best by far. It’s got some great tension and a sense of unease, of everything being slightly off-kilter. It’s also got an ending that just WORKS. Unlike some films that simply don’t earn this sort of reveal, this film absolutely does. It’s a great “Ah-hah!” moment where lots of little details suddenly click into place. Hats off to everyone involved in this, from the director and writers to the actors. Make sure to check this one out if you get the chance.