Mystery writer Robin Richards (Andréa Winter) is having a bad year. Her latest novel, a sequel to her last bestseller, is not only a critical and commercial flop but is being touted by online trolls as the vilest book ever written. Suffering from a subsequent case of severe writer’s block, Richards reluctantly takes her agent’s advice to get away from it all and travels to a remote farmhouse in Sweden where she can relax, recharge her batteries and, hopefully, release the blockage that is keeping her from writing anything new.
She’ll also be fighting for her life because the bucolic B&B her agent booked for her is far from the idea writer’s retreat she is expecting. There’s not only no indoor plumbing or cell phone reception, but the farmer who runs the place looks and acts like an escapee from the village in this year’s other Swedish genre film, the terrifying (if slightly incoherent) Midsommar. And he’s the ‘normal’ one on the property.
Directed by Patrick von Barkenberg, who co-wrote the screenplay with Winter, Blood Paradise is a paint-by-numbers thriller that comes very close to breaking the mold to become something more than predictable. It all starts on a strange scene with Richards tied to a bed while her latex clad lover Teddy (von Barkenberg) tries to whip her into ecstasy. Any kinky heat the scene is hoping to achieve gets quickly shot down, though, when Teddy has a panic attack because his skin-tight hood doesn’t have an airhole big enough for him to breath through. The switch from seemingly sexy to extremely silly works well primarily because of the way the abrupt twist throws the audience off. Unfortunately, it’s just about the last time the film offers anything that unpredictable.
From the moment she gets picked up at the train station by her Number One Sweedish Fan Hans Bubi (Christer Cavallius), it’s clear that Richards isn’t just in another country, but another world, one that is far more strange and dangerous than the lush city life she left behind. Or, at least it’s clear to the audience; the writer seems oblivious, which is a huge missed opportunity in the script and the film. For example, Bubi spends most of their first encounter in his cab staring at her boobs (which we do, too, thanks to the von Barkenberg’s creepy camerawork) while getting her to autograph his several copies of her books as he, too, tells her how bad her last novel was. The fact that she just takes it all, from the gratuitous ogling to the ogler’s unwarranted review with no reaction does not bode well for how she will react when things start to get really weird at the farmhouse.
It isn’t too soon before our fears are realized as Richards stumbles around the farm seemingly oblivious to the increasingly bizarre behavior of the people around her. At what point, you wonder as you watch her, will the writer decide it’s time to get the heck out of there? Will it be after she notices the freshly dug grave in the garden outside her bedroom window where the farmer has buried his wife? How about seconds later when the farmer refers to it as his “garden of death”? Maybe the time to leave is when she finds the farmer’s hulking son out in a field with a high powered rifle and scope bouncing up and down on a broken-down cart like he was dry humping it? That, to most, would seem like an excellent time to leave; the writer simply walks on past to go skinny dipping in the lake.
If Winter and von Barkeberg had taken just a little more time to fill in the blanks of the lead character, Blood Paradise would have been more interesting. Richards doesn’t have to freak out and scream at every little thing she sees or make a stand and start demanding some explanations as she watches things spiral out of control, but she has to do something otherwise the audience won’t be there to cheer her on in the end.
And that’s a shame because the ending of Blood Paradise isn’t that bad. The kills themselves feel a bit repetitive, but more from lack of budget than imagination. We see a lot of people get hit on the head with various blunt instruments, but it’s all done off-camera with a bit of blood trickling down from the hairline in a closeup to show they are dead. At one point, somebody gets their finger cut off with a rusty farm implement, but again it’s disappointingly off camera and the finger the bad guy holds up after looks incredibly fake. To the filmmakers’ credit, the reveal of the killer towards the end is effectively creepy, and it’s fun to see how the reveal makes Richards finally snap out of it and fight back to win her freedom. The ‘surprise’ at the very end, however, is mishandled and feels like a cheap shot added on for effect instead of a moment the film has been building towards.
- John Black, Blood Paradise