Netflix horror worth your time #4: Blood River

There are really only so many reasons that one person will kill another.

It can happen in a fit of passion, for revenge, to protect loved ones, or even for fun and money

All are compelling motives, but they’re still all very pedestrian, very human, comparatively.

Being raised Protestant or even more specifically Presbyterian isn’t very unique, but something about my interpretation of it all has left me very susceptible to be intrigued by movies like The
Prophesy and the Omen that take angels and demons, characters that have a weight built into them by the Bible, and flush them and their motives out to characters and plots that straddle the genres of epics and horrors (although aren’t all epics horror? All contain superhuman, homicidal foes. Homer, for example. Everyone was trying to kill him)

We’re supposed to fear Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees for their superhuman strength and near immortality, but compare that to the angels of the Prophesy; their strength is godlike and they have a motive more complex than we could possibly comprehend. They’re jealous of us, of men, because God loved us more, and because of it, they want to take us out.

That’s a lot deeper than seeking revenge because some camp counselors let you drown. I’m looking at you Jason.

There of course a couple risks in taking on biblical characters, though. That is that they’re too big. Zeus, for example, can lose, but if you follow biblical rules, God cannot. And the characters, nearly exactly by definition, are melodramatic. Half are pure good, the other half are pure bad.

The other risk is ending up writing something with a moral. We, as consumers, have very quickly grown out of and lost patience for stories that try to teach us something. We don’t want to hear it from our mothers and we surely don’t want to pay 8 bucks to get it delivered through celluloid.

And that’s why these examples work. They’re not didactic. You don’t leave the Prophecy feeling like you’ve been coerced into repenting or abstaining from anything.

But of course, when the risks are high, so are the rewards. Take Damien from the Omen, for example. His mother was a jackal. He is the antichrist. He’s just a boy, but he’s destroying the world directly around him on the way to destroying the entire world. The stakes literally can’t be higher.

But this is all just really a lengthy introduction to Blood River and why I find it so haunting.

You see the bad guy here is Joseph. He’s an angel. And he’s going to kill everyone in the movie.

And maybe at first you think he’s just a metaphoric angel.

Clark and Summer fill out the film’s trinity. They are a young couple crossing the desert. They blow a tire in the middle of nowhere and because their spare was stolen or is just otherwise gone, they’re left to bake and die in the sun. That is until Joseph, the angel, crosses their path.

He may be an angel, but he looks more like a cowboy. Cowboy hat. Leather jacket. Cigarette between his teeth.

And although we’ve never seen him in a car, he says he’s out of gas.

Clark and Summer actually crossed paths with Joseph at the beginning of the story. He’s hitching his way down a two-lane highway and they drive around him. When they get to their motel, of course he’s already there, at the bar, and when they leave, we find Joseph is in his room with the motel’s hostess. She’s in her bathtub with a cross carved into her forehead and the last we see of her is her dragging a razor down her wrist. Pretty blatant and ominous foreshadowing for what’s to come.

Because he says his car is out of gas and Clark and Summer’s has gas but is wrecked, Joseph devises a plan for Clark and him to walk to Clark’s car, siphon out the gas then walk to Joseph’s and fill it up. The first problem is that the vehicles are in opposite directions and they’re in the sweltering desert. The second problem is the incredible amount of tension between Joseph and Clark.

Joseph is weird to begin with. He’s played by Andrew Howard whose eyes are a blue so light they look faded out and he talks like his voice is used up. When Clark asks him if he has a problem with a authority, Joseph responds, “Only two authorities I’m aware of, myself and God and I don’t have a problem either.” When Summer calls Joseph a revolutionary, he shrugs it off by saying that what revolutionaries do has cycles. “What I do has a very definite start and a very definite end.” He tells Clark, who works in an office, up in his ivory tower, as Joseph puts it, that he’s not truly aware of what’s going on in the world.

The true tension comes when Joseph touches Summer. He puts his hands on her stomach to feel her baby kick, although they hadn’t told him she was pregnant. That night, drunk and around a fire, Clark tells Joseph that if he touches Summer again, he’ll kill him. And of course Joseph touches her again. When they start their trek for fuel, they leave Summer behind because she’s pregnant. But for safety, they leave her with Joseph’s gun. And he of course has to teach her how to use it and at one point he even pivots her so the gun is pointing at Clark.

 

So Joseph and Clark aren’t friends when they set out. They’re just stuck in the same situation. But of course being alone on the road together doesn’t help their situation.

Joseph begins to say things to Clark about how he knows him. He says he can see inside men. “Inside your soul,” he said. “The truth will come out in the end.”

“You’re making me uncomfortable with this shit,” Clark says.

“Probably the guilt. You’ve got a road back, just gotta know when to take it.”

They make it to the car. Then Joseph disappears and we find him again back at the ghost town where they left Summer.

We’ll cut back to the car, to Clark, who after hearing something in the trunk opens it, and finds the corpse of his dead stepson, Summer’s son.

“The man you love is much more dangerous than you or I,” Joseph says to Summer back at the ghost town, Blood River. “ He has sinned. Everything he has cared about will be crushed. Everyone he loves will be punished.”

Clark, worried for Summer, starts running back. He’ll find Joseph and Summer, and Joseph will let him tie him up. Clark tortures him and asks him, “Who are you?”

“I’m an angel. Sent down to earth from a righteous god. To punish the weak. Today is your day.”

“Punished for what?”

“Do you really want me to say?”

We never learn exactly what Clark did. It seems to have something to do with his stepson, Benny.

For the story to work, though, we don’t need to know. It’s enough to see Clark admit it with his eyes and silently concede.

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