One of the great things about film festivals is the opportunity to discover a new film that catches you completely by surprise. Dry Blood from Kelton Jones and Clint Carney is just that film. The film is a disturbing nightmarish exploration into addiction, paranoia and horror. The cast, direction and script, along with top notch practical effects, combine for a satisfying and memorable film.
At the recent East Coast premiere at the GenreBlast Film Festival in Culpeper, VA on September 19, 2016, Dry Blood played to an eager crowd who responded with screams of terror, gasps of delight and richly deserved applause. Screenwriter Clint Carney and Director Kelton Jones have created a tight little thriller with supernatural and horror overtones that succeeds in capturing the suffocating dread its lead, Brian Barnes (Clint Carney), must survive as he battles his addictions. The film follows his spiral towards a brutal and bloody conclusion full of surprises and gore. Dry Blood is amazing with scenes that leave you breathless and shocked. There are visuals in this film that stick with its audiences long after the film ends.
With a variety of strengths to exploit, Dry Blood‘s biggest asset is a tight, character focused script from writer Clint Carney. By concentrating on the lead character, Brian Barnes (Clint Carney), and his decent into madness as he struggles to beat withdrawals and a lapsing grasp of reality. Waking up in his car parked on the side of the road, totally unaware of how he ended up at this spot, Barnes decides he needs to fight his addiction once again. He heads to a family home in the mountains calling upon one remaining friend, Anna (Jaymie Valentine), who reluctantly agrees to help him in his time of need. Before long, he begins to see visions wandering around the house – ghosts of another time and of unknown origin. At first, he believes they are hallucinations; but, slowly, he begins to conclude otherwise, suspecting the home holds a horrifying past. While Anna and Brian struggle through the highs and lows, a local officer (Kelton Jones) keeps close tabs on Brian and his activities. As paranoia rises with each confrontation, Brian begins to speculate alternatives to the officer’s true intentions. The closer Brian gets to the truth, the more the horror bubbles to the surface until it spills over in an explosion of gore and violence.
Writer Clint Carney portrays Brian Barnes as a manic, twitchy, restless soul in search of a peace that forever eludes him. It is a fascinating and magnetic performance. Despite the damaged history and flaws in dealing with his addiction honestly, Carney gives Barnes an amiable personality that invites the audience to stand behind him regardless, hoping he will defeat his demons. Despite evidence he may be an unreliable narrator, Carney’s efforts pay off, keeping the audience in his hip pocket. His caffeine-induced body language and gestures accent the mental struggle the character faces every second. Instead of focusing on the medical effects of his condition, Carney focuses on the mental toll his struggle takes instead, hanging much of the conflict and drama on a growing and all-consuming paranoia. When the time comes for the character to fight for his life, Carney goes all out with spectacular and frightening energy, taking the character to unexpected heights – or, perhaps, depths.
Standing alongside Clint Carney’s script, director Kelton Jones’ camera follows the story as an extension of the Brian Barnes perspective subtly revealing the lead character’s mental deterioration. He carefully focuses the camera upon key elements, props or characters to build the tension and suspense. Throughout the story, the frame will be directed upon Barnes while another principal says something slightly out of character; quickly shifting the direction away from Barnes immediately afterwards, the second character denies the statement resulting in both Barnes and the audience questioning what in the hell is actually going on. A simple but highly effective technique. In later scene, Jones decides to hold the camera on the horror allowing the visuals, sound design and performances to live and breath with great effect and impact. In an age dominated by quick edits, the direction is refreshing and, for Dry Blood, highly rewarding.
Despite the horror surrounding Brian Barnes struggles and the intensity of the conflicts he faces, the film often shares a lighter tone without resorting to jokes and gags. The dialog and the cast allow a natural humor to flow from the characters and the actions affecting their decisions and lives. The best of these is the relationship between the local cop and Brian Barnes which balances the authority, suspicion and intimidation with a levity that serves to ease the audience continually on Barnes’ side and unexpectedly into the horror that is to come. It also allows Kelton Jones to establish a subtle sense of comfort that propels the ending to be all that much more brutal, shocking and horrifying.
Another key component to Dry Blood achieving its successful, brutal conclusion is the level of practical special effects the film displays. It is likely the visuals presented on screen far exceed the limits the budget this independent film may have had. Many of the designs of the ghosts haunting Brian’s mountain getaway are far superior to the many CG-heavy creations or decorations that plague many similar films. The make-up effects show influences of Rick Baker or Dick Smith. Think Ghost Story (1981). There is one particular scene, a highlight of the film, involving a gunshot wound to the face that is difficult to forget; it is so well done combining practical, computer graphics, acting and sound design to highly impressive and haunting results, so much so that it stays with its audience long after the film ends. Yet even that scene does not contain the most graphic and disturbing visuals Dry Bloods holds. The ending is brutal, emotionally and visually. Indeed, the blood flows.
Dry Blood is a great film. One of those special discoveries that leaves the impression the future holds great promise for those involved. It is the kind of film that begs to be recommended to friends and fellow horror fans. By comparison, it is tonally more in common with a Winter’s Bone than a Babadook or It Follows — with more blood, either way. The film is well worth seeking out as it continues its film festival travels. The film is rewarding with its strengths prevalent in its script, direction and cast. Clint Carney is effective and manic as Brian Barnes and his supporting cast is equally remarkable. Jaymie Valentine is seductively subdued as Barnes’ sole friend Anna. Rin Ehlers and Graham Sheldon are strong in their brief but important screen time. Macy Johnson as Ehlers and Sheldon’s on-screen daughter is similarly effective in a short amount of time. Robert V. Galluza seizes the opportunity to provide some needed mirth as the store clerk. Director Kelton Jones steps into the role of the local cop continually questioning Barnes’ motive, intimidating the character at every opportunity. The special effects land just right without fail elevating the film at just the right time. The film lives and breathes the passion and care the film makers put into the production, it is in every frame. Dry Blood is a true surprise of 2016 and a strong contender for the top 10 horror films of the year. It certainly deserves the Best Horror Film award given at the recent GenreBlast Film Festival.
Dry Blood (4.5 / 5)