Hulu gets ready for Huluween by dropping horror-infused content all month long. Based on Clive Barker’s acclaimed and influential horror anthology Books of Blood, this feature takes audiences on a journey into uncharted and forbidden territory through three uncanny tales tangled in space and time.
Brannon Braga‘s feature directorial debut starts of with bloodshed, when a librarian in debt gets killed by a mysterious man after disclosing the location of a valuable book. We jump straight into the first of three stories wherein Britt Robertson (‘I Still Believe‘) plays Jenna, a hypersensitive girl who suffers from ‘misphonia’ (an abhorrence of sound). As she learns her mother is about to send her back to the ‘Farm,’ she steals her mother’s cash and sets out for Los Angeles. While taking refuge in a cosy B&B, the always pessimistic Jenna keeps hearing scratching sounds coming from behind the walls in her room, whenever she takes off her noise cancelling headphones. Carrying a secret with her that she refuses to discuss turns her nightmares into a living nightmare. The two abnormally friendly owners of the bed and breakfast quickly make Jenna feel welcome, a feeling she hasn’t felt in a very long time, but when the sounds coming from behind the walls of the cockroach-infested B&B start to make her feel more and more uncomfortable, she also has to deal with being followed by a mysterious man. It’s up to Jenna to read the room and figure out what’s really going on.
The first story that eventually weaves together with the following two, is probably the strongest standalone story, with the strongest ensemble of actors. Running from her own past, while stranding in a small town makes for a great location to feel trapped in – even more than in the confined walls of her mother’s beach side modern mansion. Joel J. Richard‘s (‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum‘) score sounds like the tunes coming out of a music box. The eeriness of his music helps with establishing more of a menacing atmosphere than Bragga was able to conjure with his direction. Especially the second and third story fall completely flat.
When we get to Miles’ story half way into the movie, the change of pace has shifted to something that doesn’t fully connect with what we’ve just witnessed before. We see a naked Rafi Gavron (‘Godfather of Harlem‘) waking up in some sort of cell, with text written in what seems blood all over the walls. He plays Simon, a handsome, charismatic young man who convinces Mary (Anna Friel – ‘Marcella‘) that he is a ‘ghost whisperer’. Mary, a brilliant, beautiful psychologist who has gained fame as a skeptic that debunks all theories or beliefs that are not solely scientifically based. She has lost her 7-year-old son, Miles, to leukemia and when Simon becomes her lover, he convinces her that he speaks for her dead child. Fully convinced he’s speaking the truth, the dead are bound to unravel secrets that hover above the new couple’s head.
Mainly due to the somewhat unconvincing acting of Friel and Gavron, this segment doesn’t completely work. It’s not entirely the actors’ fault, when they’re just trying to do the writing some justice on screen. Knowing Barker’s Books of Blood have been written all the way back in 1984, the film as a whole feels rather dated. When some horrible CGI-creatures and body gore makes their entrance, you can’t help but think of other Clive Barker-vehicle, Hellraiser. Luckily, by the time Miles’ story sort of wraps up to make place for the final story that links all three, and continues the film’s opening with Bennett (Yul Vazquez – ‘The Outsider‘), a professional killer whose latest assignment clues him in on a priceless book that may allow him and his wife to permanently retire, we’re close to the end of the film. On his search for the tome, his quest leads him straight into supernatural terror. Close to a runtime of two hours, Books of Blood feels unnecessarily long and not scary at all.
Some of the imagery presented, is definitely disturbing (the bloody opening credits deserve praise above all), but Books of Blood lacks suspense and doesn’t clearly define what kind of story it’s going to tell until the very end. I’m glad the film wraps up nicely, linking back to Jenna’s disturbing story, making you rethink why you were rooting for her in the first place.
Books of Blood isn’t as scary as it could’ve been. It’s medium-rare grimly sadistic tone works best when it lets the characters breathe and connect with the viewer into liking them (which you shouldn’t!). The brand-new reiteration of Barker’s Books of Blood feels too dated to be blood-curdling.
‘Books of Blood’ premieres on Hulu Wednesday, October 7th
Hulu Review – ‘Books Of Blood’
Reviewed online (screener provided by Hulu), October 4, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 107 min.
PRODUCTION: A Hulu release of a Fuzzy Door Productions, Fox 21 Television Studios, Touchstone Television production. Producers: Jason Clark, Michael Mahoney, Joseph J. Micucci. Executive producers: Brannon Braga, Seth MacFarlane, Erica Huggins, Alana Kleiman, Brian Witten, Jeff Kwatinetz, Josh Barry, Clive Barker, Adam Simon.
CREW: Director: Brannon Braga. Screenplay: Brannon Braga, Adam Simon (based on the book by Clive Barker). Editing: John Duffy. Cinematography: Michael Dallatorre. Score: Joel J. Richard.
WITH: Britt Robertson, Rafi Gavron, Anna Friel, Yul Vazquez, Freda Foh Shen.
Cover photo: Jenna (Britt Robertson), shown. (Photo by: Chris Reardon/Hulu)