Rise: Blood Hunter

One of the pleasures of going to the movies is walking into a theatre with little or no expectations and walking out with the nice feeling you’ve just seen a distinguished and original work. Such is the case with “Rise: Blood Hunter”, a new horror film that mixes hypnotic moments of raw horror with interesting sensibilities and just the right amount of discreet humour: it’s basically a vampire movie that’s more thoughtful and restrained than most films in both its genre and subgenre. Writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez does some unexpected things with pacing and structure, and the film also benefits from a stellar performance by Lucy Liu, great cinematography from John Toll and, especially early on, a disquieting combination of editing and sound effects that may come off as clumsy but is really quite essential in setting up a nightmarish atmosphere; the opening scene, with a young woman in a horrible predicament, along the lines of what we’ll probably see in the quickly upcoming Hostel: Part II, has an air of disturbing mystery and surrealism.

Liu plays Sadie Blake, a writer for an alternative weekly in Los Angeles who investigates the Goth subculture and ends up with way more than she bargained for: she falls prey to a band of vampires and is left for dead but wakes up in a morgue, neither dead nor alive and looking for revenge. References to Kill Bill are unmistakeable: being boxed in while still alive-sort of for Sadie- (the Bride’s coffin in vol. 2 becomes Sadie’s morgue drawer), having a wise mentor and benefactor (whereas the Bride had Hattori Hanzo in vol. 1, Sadie is initially guided by a shadowy character played by Julio Oscar Mechoso), and also gradually eliminating those responsible for what happened. Also noteworthy are Gutierrez’s girlfriend, the beautiful Carla Gugino, as silky-voiced vampire temptress Eve, Allan Rich as a wheelchair-bound underling of sorts, whose perversions bring about the creepy opening scene, and Michael Chiklis as Detective Rawlins, who wants to find out who murdered his daughter at a party that was a trap set up by vampire leader Bishop (James D’Arcy). Cameos by Nick Lachey as a small-time car thief and Marilyn Manson as a bartender add a few self-effacing touches of humour.

Very far from the breezy, cheeky girl power of Charlie’s Angels and the dull, dehumanizing emptiness of Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Liu is absolutely remarkable here, revealing a depth of emotions rarely hinted at in her previous work: her performance is harrowing, especially in the overpass scene and after her thirst for blood brings an untimely end to a hitchhiker, but she always keeps an air of deadly, mournful resolution. That the central character is so well-drawn helps make “Rise: Blood Hunter” a fine example of psychology-based, above-average horror, but it kind of hides that the film is fairly modest in scope and that secondary characters like Bishop, Rawlins and especially the mentor are not as strongly defined. The final shot is somewhat disappointing (although it plays fair with what we’ve learned about Sadie), but the film remains a stylish and very interesting offering that deserves to find an audience.

Review by Jean-François Tremblay