A sanguine slab of grab-bag genre filmmaking full to bursting with fiendish turns and unexpected thoughtfulness, Blood Red Sky is the sort of surprise best enjoyed with a blank slate. For the curious: Consider this an endorsement and come back after watching the film, which debuts Friday on Netflix. (Also: Avert your eyes from the description and turn off Netflix’s auto-play trailer doohickey if you can.) Conversely, would you like to know more? Well, read on.
Director Peter Thorwarth and co-writer Stefan Holtz surpass the SyFy simplicity of their vampire-versus-terrorists-on-a-plane storyline for a horror film that’s commendably bonkers and credibly considerate of airplanes as a microcosm of xenophobia — in class, color and, at least here, creature.
At the outset, you wouldn’t think this could justify two hours. But Blood Red Sky deliberately detonates an isolated vampire’s ideas of loneliness over only-ness while maintaining relentless momentum into a nifty oh-man final-act turn. Thorwarth’s patience for unleashing hell is not to be mistaken for padded filmmaking. Just look past the dog-eared in medias res opening to portent that’s otherwise potent from the jump.
Elias (Carl Anton Koch) is a young boy pulling a very hefty luggage cart at a German airport. He’s been sent ahead by his mother, Nadja (Peri Baumeister), to check their bags. She’ll have to arrive moments before takeoff because she’s very ill; in fact, she’s flying with Elias to New York for a bone marrow transplant in an effort to remove all the bad blood from her body. To even make it through the flight, Nadja must ingest bitter liquids and inject painful medications.
But a caring medical team awaits Nadja on the other side of the world, along with a 48-inch TV equipped with “all the streaming services,” as her doctor says in an amusing wink. Unfortunately, a cabal of cruel terrorists awaits her and every other passenger. Theoretically, they’re led by Berg (Dominic Purcell, late of TV’s Prison Break and Legends of Tomorrow). But the bloodthirsty Eightball (Alexander Scheer) runs the show, more stabby than stealthy. It’s kind of amazing that no actor has quite smuggled the theatrical flamboyance of John Cameron Mitchell or Johnny Rotten into one of these terrorist-lackey roles. Kudos to Scheer, who also infuses his movements with a feral physicality that would make Doug Jones proud.
Ah, but what the terrorists don’t know. Nadja can smell all that blood Eightball is spilling from several cabins back. That’s because she’s a vampire, and she’ll be damned (again) if she’s going to let these hijackers divert her path to deliverance from the curse.
Does Blood Red Sky occasionally forget its own structure and offer flashbacks within flashbacks? Yes. It also quickly drops some specifics of the terrorists’ motives; then again, would you care about a covert mission down on the ground if a vampire came charging at you? But its inclination toward narrative completism at least has a compelling point among all the havoc, which is to suggest how someone can be so quickly “othered” and dehumanized.
Thorwarth and Holtz’s depiction of how Nadja wound up this way isn’t superficially exciting or surprising. It just underscores her as a woman from whom humanity has been stripped. It also emphasizes the pains and lengths she’s gone to in pushing down her supernatural animalism to raise a child, as well as her own inability to trust herself or know when any line of reason on who not to eat will be obliterated. Baumeister complements this idea with a physical-dynamo turn that reveals the layers of self-loathing that stack up over several years. These same ideas echo in Farid (Kais Setti), a scientist who befriends Elias but whose skin color finds him conveniently pegged as a scapegoat for all of the menace perpetrated by these (mostly) white hijackers.
Tentative alliances form, but Blood Red Sky never loses sight of the ecology of selfishness that still plays out even when chips aren’t just down but covered in viscera. Thorwarth’s action sequences effectively move through the cramped quarters. But he also understands the social compartmentalization of any large plane … and the idea that not everyone wants to bring down the fever to antagonize which burns inside them.
Fret not, for Blood Red Sky has plenty of meat on which to chew on both sides of the equation. Thorwarth and his team deliver on gruesome urgency throughout, employing a professional mix of practical and computer effects that most mammoth-sized productions can’t match and a hefty dose of climactic tension once the film catches up to itself. (Bonus points for some of the most appropriately horrified facial responses to an explosion you’ve ever seen.) Stow the snarky elbow-to-rib snowclone titles like Biteplan or Stakes on a Plane. They’re beneath this surprisingly contemplative and carnage-laden curio.