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Film Review: Blood Glacier (2013)

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“Pretty enjoyable while it lasts.”

There is an unspoken transaction that often takes place between creature features with a less-than-Hollywood budget and their viewers. The transaction goes thusly: the makers of said movie use good old fashioned, honest-to-goodness practical effects to create their monsters. This can be for many reasons; they could for example have a nostalgia for good old fashioned, honest-to-goodness practical effects and wish to make their monsters in the same way their forebears did. Conversely they might have wanted to use new, flashy, CGI but lacked the funds and/or facilities to be able to, so have no choice but to use in-camera effects. This they will then pass off as coming from their nostalgia for good old fashioned, honest-to-goodness practical effects. Either way, there are some good old fashioned, honest-to-goodness practical effects involved.

Blood-Glacier_1386596316On the other end of this transaction is the horror audience. Horror audiences are generally a deeply traditional crowd and have an equal amount of nostalgia for good old fashioned, honest-to-goodness practical effects. In exchange for another hit of effects nostalgia, which the horror movie fan is desperate for in modern times, they are willing to give up a great deal of ‘good will’. The film can then use this ‘good will’ to paper over the verisimilitudinous cracks that are created when the practical effects themselves are, more often than not, badly lit, over exposed, or any other reason up to and including the inherent nature of practical effects. Such is the nature of things.

There is a caveat when it comes to modern creature features wishing to take part in this barter system, however. Generally speaking the film needs to be self-aware on some level. It doesn’t need to completely break the fourth wall, but it does need to be leaning on it somewhat. It’s the film’s way of saying “we’ve gone to all this effort of building the monsters with our bare hands and in doing so run the risk of having our beasts look ridiculous to horror outsiders. But we’ve done it for you, the hardcore horror hound, because we know it’s what you like, and we haven’t made this film for anyone other than you”.

Which is a problem for director Marvin Kren’s Blood Glacier, as its main selling point is the unique nature of the monsters contained within. Writer Benjamin Hessler’s so-simple-its-clever conceit is to take every vaguely threatening or unpleasant animal found in the film’s remote mountain setting, and mash them together into monsters. Blood Glacier is also seriously serious, therefore there is no inherent ‘good will’ from the audience to use.

So when it’s explained to the audience exactly what the red microbes inside the melting glacier can do to the local fauna, the film’s primary visual intrigue is seeing these grotesqueries displayed. The snatches we’ve seen of the hybrid animals early on in the film promise much, between enticing lifeforms such as a crow/wasp the size of a small dog, enormous woodlice and a beetle/fox.

Just after the mid-point, however, the film’s most memorable and second most explicitly shown monster, an insectoid ibex shows up, and it becomes clear that all we’re going to see are fleeting glimpses. It’s such a shame as clearly a great deal of thought and design has gone into the beasts. To be fair to the filmmakers, the more energetic hybrids are crudely animated, the beetle/fox being the main offender. Despite most of the undercranking and speed ramping tricks in the book being clearly employed in the editing stage to make the mutant’s scuttling seem more menacing, it just doesn’t work. At best it comes off as clumsy, at worst, it looks like a jumble of speed ramping and undercranking, which is frankly much worse. Such bad treatment of animals almost warrants a call to the SSPCA.

The extras do feature some very nice creature concept sketches, however. These will probably be all but useless albeit on the largest, most hi-def screens, however on a PC, where they can be magnified and pored over, they’re lovely and show the animals as they deserve to be seen, and to a standard which the finished film cannot.

It will seem completely out of the blue then for this review to completely about-face and recommend Blood Glacier, for this is a film that, like some of the characters, manages to survive, despite the unfortunate fate of the animals.

Remotely set on the German alps at a scientific station, cut off from civilisation, this film is hugely influenced by, if not a complete rip-off of, John Carpenter’s classic The Thing. And that’s no bad thing. As Carpenter’s film is the best extraterrestrial terror of that decade, people have been so afraid to set foot in a similar surrounding that over 30 years later it’s almost relieving that we get to come back to such a surrounding with such seriousness.

It’s not just the chilly and remote setting of Blood Glacier that apes The Thing either. Gerhard Liebman’s Janek is nothing but the German version of Kurt Russell’s MacReady. And that’s fine too. Liebman is riveting in the role, absolutely elevating the cliché material he’s given, bringing a great deal of sympathy and pathos to the part. He’s the consummate understated badass, cold hearted to all humans who too occupy the station, but devoted to his dog.

The countdown to zero, as is standard in remote horrors, is increasingly imminent; this time facilitated by the arrival of the minister Bodicek (Brigitte Kren). It’s fantastically done, with Janek, the only sane insane person at the station wanting to send a proper warning, while the other rather forgettable supporting characters don’t wish to disturb the cabinet which may shut their operation down. It’s a gripping scenario that doesn’t outstay its welcome. Not least because when Bodicek arrives we suddenly get a very interesting character. She’s a brutishly effective stereotype of what it takes to survive in the world of politics, and all the good and bad that comes with it. She’s a much-needed injection of character when Janek is the only person we’ve really got to cling on to, and the best scenes in the film are when she’s steadfastly commanding everyone as the station is besieged by animals.

A derivative film then? Certainly, but the suitably icy atmosphere is nicely heated up by two sterling performances once their characters are put under pressure. However the inability to display such interesting creatures properly is a real dropped-ball and means the film isn’t a particularly memorable one. Blood Glacier is, though, pretty enjoyable while it lasts.

RJ BAYLEY

Director: Marvin Kren
Starring: Gerhard Liebman, Brigitte Kren
Certificate: 15
Running Time: 96 minutes
DVD Release Date: 27 January 2014

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Blood Glacier (UK)


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