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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 12.08.13] drama

In 1993, shortly before the completion of shooting on his latest movie Dark Blood, River Phoenix died. After the insurers and financiers decided there wasn't enough footage to finish the movie, the project was shelved until a number of years ago when director George Sluizer, likely best known for the excellent abduction thriller The Vanishing, revisited the footage. Though some minor scenes were missing, Sluizer felt he had enough material to complete the film and Dark Blood re-emerged last year at the Netherlands Film Festival.

Phoenix stars as Boy, a young widower whose wife died of radiation poisoning from nuclear tests near their home. He's since moved out to the desert where he lives as a hermit, spending his time carving dolls and building a fall out shelter for when the end of the world strikes. Boy's serene living is turned upside down by the arrival of Buffy (Judy Davis) and Harry (Jonathan Pryce), a Hollywood couple who are on their second honey moon in an effort to salvage their marriage. When their fancy car breaks down in the middle of the desert, Buffy follows the lights directly to Boy's house but the saviour soon turns into captor. Boy is completely infatuated with Buffy and though at first he finds excuses for the couple not to leave, those eventually dry up and are replaced for force. Boy wants to keep Buffy for himself so that the pair can rebuild when the apocalypse hits.

Though mostly complete, Dark Blood is missing enough key scenes that they couldn't simply be left out of the story and in parts where those scenes are missing, Sluizer provides narration. These moments are surprisingly well blended into the story, partly because of the way in which Sluizer and editor Michiel Reichwein bridge the gaps but also because Sluizer's voice is so in keeping with the tone of the movie. There's an almost dreamlike sequence to many of the scenes, particularly those of Harry and Boy wondering in the desert and the groups' visit to the fall out shelter, and Sluizer's voice is a beautiful extension of that but Dark Blood feels too much like a product of its time. While some movies (Paris, Texas came to mind mostly because of the common desert setting and the wondering characters which inhabit both movies) feel timeless, Dark Blood feels like its stuck in the 90s. There's something odd about the dialogue and even the style of acting which is often melodramatic and bombastic. The exception is Phoenix whose mostly wordless performance is the most engaging, likely because it feels like a serene change to the bombast of Harry and Buffy.

The story is thin, the performances are, for the most part, bland and though it features some gorgeous cinematography and a few really great scenes (Harry's hunting trip with Boy is particularly good), Dark Blood is boring. The really interesting parts, like the fact that Boy lives so close to a nuclear test site and his obsession with the fall out shelter, are only touched on in passing rather than explored for more nuance. It doesn't help that the characters are all unlikeable narcissists following their own wants. They're all ugly people and Buffy is the worst of the bunch, using her sexual hold over Boy not only to facilitate her escape but also to fulfill her own desires. The fact that she does so doesn't bother me so much as the fact that she lies to both her husband and herself about her reason for agreeing to do it.

Dark Blood isn't memorable but it makes for an interesting oddity worth a peek if only for Phoenix's performance.

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