WORDS Kevan Farrow
Set in late 19th century Colorado and relying on Native American mythology for its central premise, Blood Moon represents an unusual take on the werewolf film. Director Jeremy Wooding has dabbled with western motifs before — albeit in a modern setting — in his previous film The Magnificent Eleven, but here he goes all out with a period piece set in Old West towns and featuring an ensemble of archetypal western characters.
The film’s narrative is sparked with a violent bank robbery perpetrated by the unhinged Norton Brothers, who immediately flee the scene. Guessing where they are headed, local lawman Wade decides to follow them to a small, abandoned town by the name of Pine Flats, enlisting the help of a local Native American woman named Black Deer. Shortly after setting out, Black Deer tells Wade about ‘skin-walkers’ — people banished from their tribe for practicing shape-shifting, and who are active on nights like tonight, when a blood moon hangs in the sky. Meanwhile a group of travellers passing through Pine Flats is taken captive by the outlaws, but although tensions between the brothers and their prisoners run high, outside lurks a far bigger, hairier threat, intent on killing the group one by one.
The performances make what could have been stock characters individual and very watchable. Anna Skellern is a joy to watch as sassy, streetwise widow Marie, and gonzo Canadian comic Tony Law puts in a hugely enjoyable turn as coachman Yancy. Barnsley-born Shaun Dooley seems to be steering his roles more and more towards horror, having appeared in Eden Lake, The Awakening and The Woman in Black, and brings a real conviction to his role as the moody and mysterious Calhoun. The actors are however given a hell of a starting point with a sharp script brimming with snappy dialogue — “You couldn’t find your ass in the dark if it was on fire” — which makes for a world where characters effortlessly espouse witty one-liners and cutting comebacks. This can admittedly get a little wearisome, but does frequently force a wry smile from the viewer.
The skin-walker itself is more or less your classic modern werewolf: towering, thick with hair and frighteningly well-clawed. Its attacks are swift and bloody, though wounds are rarely leered upon by the camera, the kinetic flurry of the violence favoured over gore content. The few shots we get of bodily transformation are controlled but impressive, with practical effects very much leading the way. Also, the set design is fantastic, and highly ambitious for such a modestly budgeted film. Mud roads are lined with shack-like saloons and swinging wooden signs, and interiors are lavishly decorated and cluttered with period trinkets.
But, while undeniably quite remarkable in overall aesthetic, Blood Moon seems to build to a climax which never fully materialises. The narrative closure makes perfect sense, and the film has a well-controlled pace, it just feels like this needs to be forced to a breaking point, exploding into a more frenzied final confrontation between the surviving characters and the beast. Blood Moon is however very difficult not to like, with its matching of period authenticity and monster-movie motifs.