2 out of 5
Directed by: Brannon Braga
I won’t question the decision to base your movie on a book (or series of books)… and then not actually take any material from the source. I haven’t read Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, nor am I necessarily a Barker fan – though, fair enough, it’s the name recognition that got me to watch this 2020 “adaptation” – so I have no hackles to raise over luring viewers in who were looking for something more faithful. I do think the anthology format of the books lends itself to the additional imaginings co-writers Adam Simon and Brannon Braga brought to our digital screens, and there are enough Barker-esque notes to have convinced me that this was of the same world as Hellraisers and whatnot, so I’m okay rating the movie simply based on its own merits.
Which, uh, are okay.
Books of Blood was meant to be a longer-form affair, either several movies or perhaps a TV show, and that’s a bit too clear: the bits and pieces that make up its sections are very clumsily not transitioned between, and the runtimes of each are questionable – no 90 minute anthology spends an hour on one story out of its three. What frustrating is that this part of the movie, starring an excellent Britt Anderson as a girl on the run from her oppressive and stifling home life, comes close to being quite amazing and gripping at points, and if it hadn’t needed to be chopped up to create room for linking it to the other stories, could’ve been a standout episode of a show. It’s still maybe a bit cluttered with characters, but there are some excellent creeps (and sound design), and the ending is poetically haunting.
This isn’t so much true for the other main tale, starring Anna Friel as a professor known for debunking fake mystics and the like, who’s come to be convinced by Rafi Gavron’s character’s claimed ability to talk to the dead. This is the only bit to actually be lifted from Barker’s work (and you can absolutely tell, once it gets to its conclusion), but it again bears the hallmark of “this was once a series”-ism: the movie takes pains to build this up as the main linking thread of the flick, but the short runtime afforded doing that makes that build nothing of the sort. Friel, so awesome in Marcella, is given a cookie cutter character who has to flip from skeptic to believer in a few minutes, and Gavron has a similar about face that happens rather humorously with a lack of gravitas. I do like how this wrapped up, but I sense that Friel and Gavron would’ve / could’ve possibly been our Cryptkeeper-type hosts for a series, leaving their story for the very last entry, or at least giving it more time and focus.
This leaves about 30 seconds for Yul Vazquez as an unconvincing, jive-talking gangster looking for the titular book. It’s a rare book, and he can sell it, and it’s located at this famous murder house, and I’m convinced! Let’s go! His role in the movie is just to stumble in to the other two stories, and it’s, eh, pretty painfully dumb.
And since we start and end with this painful dumbness, it sets a precedent, and leaves a mark. But the film’s clumsy sequencing and unbalanced pacing certainly doesn’t do it any favors inbetween.