Blooded (review)

For the Kill

First-time feature filmmakers director Edward Boase and screenwriter James Walker want you know right off the bat that Blooded is not a “mockumentary”… even though it is: that is to say, they are unquestionably telling a fictional story in a format that is often used to tell a nonfiction story. I think the point they’re making by denying the mockumentary label is that they have no intention of trying to fool you into wondering whether their story is actually true. It isn’t true, not at all… but the expansive documentary format — complete with “reenactments” of “real” events — lends a powerful urgency and immediacy and relevance to their invented story in a way that a more narrative structure would have missed.
For Blooded is about more than just the horror-movie events it portrays: it’s about how the rise of amateur video and the Internet have collided to change the rules of how — and what — we know about the world. It’s about how political extremism is fueled by global exposure to its acts. (This film works on a much smaller scale, but think of it like this: 9/11 wouldn’t have had anywhere near the impact it had if not for the fact that it happened on television.) It’s about how nuance gets lost in the glare of that exposure, not just for the participants but for those of us watching. Extra layers of irony get slathered on when you learn that screenings of the film have been met with controversy and threats of sabotage: Blooded has become an excellent example of the deteriorating situation that it is itself attempting to shed some light — and less heat — on.

The ostensible backstory is this: In 2005, a group of animal-rights activists called the Real Animal League — see “their Web site” here — kidnapped pro-hunting activist Lucas Bell and a small group of his friends while they were on a weekend hunting break in remotest Scotland. Bell had been a strong opponent of the ban on fox hunting that went into effect in the U.K. in 2005 — the ban actually is real, as is the fact that it is rarely actually enforced — and the animal-rights community had previously targeted him as a focal point for their anger… but now, the RAL had decided to actually target him. Bell and his friends awake one cold morning to find that they’ve been stripped to their underwear, dumped on lonely, freezing moors, and are being chased down by men in black ski masks and hunting rifles.

But here’s the kicker: the RAL filmed these events, and posted the video on the Internet, and caused an outrage. Now, Bell’s friends are talking to us, from out of this “documentary,” about the experience and how it has impacted them. And here’s another kicker: the “documentary” recreates the RAL “hunt,” from the perspective of Bell and his friends — the RAL members are said to remain anonymous to this day — using “actors” but in the locations where the “hunt” “actually” took place.

Ugh. All these quotation marks to highlight what’s real and what isn’t! It’s all a put-on, and everyone who appears onscreen is an actor (a very appealing cast of relatively unknown TV actors). And it’s easy to see how this would have worked as a straight-up horror flick about people being hunted like animals — the “reenactments” are genuinely terrifying, the scenario grounded in a plausible this-could-really-happen way that horror movies often don’t bother with. But it’s with the multiple levels of appreciation the mockumentary — sorry, but that’s what it is — format brings that the film becomes genius. We in the audience are so much more complicit in the horror than a fictional movie ever manages to achieve, even when it sets out to do that. We know that it’s entirely likely that that Internet video would have garnered millions of voyeuristic views: we get a few snippets of it, grainy and unpolished compared to the reenactments, enough to make us want to see more, even though we’ve got the slick, polished reenactments in front of us. We feel it in our cinematic bones how much more shocking something like this is when it’s “real” as opposed to “just a movie.”

There’s also the level of genius in how Boase and Walker deliberately invented their fictional story, in such a way that it is guaranteed to infuriate everyone, no matter which side of animal-rights issues they fall on. The fact that the RAL target Bell and Co. while they’re engaging in an entirely legal hunt, not the banned fox hunting, for instance, will surely be seen by some pro-animal folks as an unnecessarily provocative distraction from the real issue, and by others as still not going far enough to make their point.

Blooded becomes, then, an exploration of medium versus message in the story it tells but also on the meta level referring to itself. And there’s surely an extra level of irony in the fact that simultaneous with its limited U.K. theatrical release starting today, it’s also available on demand to watch, you know, on the Internet. (See the official site for details. The DVD is out next week, too.) And it’s definitely worth a look for how it will make you think anew about how you look.

Watch Blooded online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.

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