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In the Blood Lou Peterson 2006

No Vein Effort

Sometimes taking a chance pays off. When I saw In the Blood listed in the NewFest guide as a “gay take on the supernatural thriller” genre, I thought, “Great – take an already flagging genre and throw in some shirtless guys and club music, and you’ve got White Noise 2: Circuit Party Feedback Nightmare.” So imagine my delight when the film turned out to be a well-crafted, thoughtful, and compelling mystery that uses the dressings and trappings of both the gay coming out film and the supernatural thriller to actually improve on one another. Anchored by a fantastic lead performance, top-notch production values (this is not your standard gay indie), and solid storytelling, In the Blood is one of the best and most unique films in the ever-evolving gay horror niche.

Now, it’s going to be very difficult to review this film, for two reasons. First, there is zero information available on it, anywhere. Actor’s names will sadly be left out, as I can’t find a cast list anywhere, although I’ll add them in at a later date (UPDATE: the filmmakers kindly sent me the press kit, so this is covered). So I’ll be running strictly with character names, and even then, only those that I can remember. It’s pathetic how dependent on the internet and press notes one can become. Second, Blood hearkens back to the Final Analysis or Love and Human Remains brand of sexy mystery-thriller (with supernatural overtones, of course). This means I have to be careful with how much of the plot I give away, as mysteries are generally more enjoyable the less you know. So with those two points in mind, here we go…

Cassidy Clarke (the frat-tastically adorable Tyler Hanes) is in his senior year of college at Columbia and is your standard-issue magical white boy: he’s smart, good to his sister, very dashing, and athletic. Kid’s going places. There are a few dark clouds over the young man, though – first, his younger sis Jessica (James Katharine Flynn), a freshman, is a bit of a superstitious ninny – she’s bugged out about a recent string of murdered girls in the area, which is understandable. And his parents both died in a plane crash when he was a kid. Oh – and he’s a big fag who’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, but is totally in the closet.

Wait, what?

Yes, writer/director Lou Peterson has opted to take an already complicated murder mystery and layer it with both supernatural elements (I’ll get to that) and a less-than-cheery coming-out story. Cassidy is not your typical theatre-loving sister – he’s a regular fratboy. And, as is often the case, his journey into self-realization is therefore going to be that much more complicated, as he’s an island in a sea of heterosexual images and energies. His best friend, Mike (the delicious Robert Dionne), is a regular cad (he works at the school gym and bones pretty young things in the sauna after-hours) and his girlfriend thinks he’s the all-American boy, as does the rest of the school, who seem to view Mike and Cassidy as the Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson elect of straight male coolness.

And as though coming to terms with your deeply repressed sexuality weren’t tough enough, there are the visions, and the nosebleeds. Cassidy has recently been seeing horrifying visions of blood, terror, and violence, some of them involving what appears to be his sister covered in blood. Each vision is accompanied by a bloody nose. There’s also a strange woman who has been lurking about lately and seems to have a special interest in Cassidy and his sister. Could she be related to the visions? The murders? Cassidy’s cock-hunger? These and other questions are what drive Blood’s story – while some films would be perfectly happy following one path, Blood juggles several, and does so quite well. The story never gets dull, and even when things take the occasional tour through predictable territory, there’s always another tangent still left unexplained that grabs the attention.

One such attention-grabbing tangent involves Victor (Carlos Alberto Valencia), a Latino hustler specializing in first-timers whom Cassidy calls for an experimental rendezvous. Apparently Cassidy has tried this kind of thing and chickened out before, and when meeting Victor face-to-face he still can’t go through with it. Victor plants a hell of a kiss on him before kicking him out, which sends Cassidy into a beaucoup vision and nosebleed. Wait… the kiss – could Cassidy’s visions be tied to his sexuality? And if that’s the case, could what Aunt Helen (Broadway darling Alison Fraser) has been saying about her peculiar brand of clairvoyant tendencies actually be true? As the bodies of lovely blonde co-eds pile up around campus, Cassidy becomes desperate to learn the meaning of his visions of his bloodied sister. Is she in danger? And why is his sexually aggressive best friend making the moves on her, despite Cassidy’s protests? Any why is the dean keeping a list of potential victims? All this and more – after the break.

No, seriously – I can’t really reveal much more without ruining some clever turns. So let me turn to the acting, which is phenomenal for a project of no-name actors (which sounds like a back-handed complement however you pitch it, sorry). Despite being a bit of an ass (a well-meaning ass, but an ass nonetheless), Cassidy is a compelling character, thanks mostly to the sensitive and genre-defying performance of Hanes, who is able to slide from brutish rage to brotherly affection to boyish confusion and weakness on a dime. He’s also absolutely beautiful, which doesn’t hurt – but in a genre stuffed with beautiful-yet-empty performances, this one is incredibly grounded and real. I went to college with about 400 of this guy (granted, only about 200 fooled around, but regardless... ).As baby sis, Flynn has a bit of a harder time early on – she’s painted as a bit of a one-note goody-goody – and she only really gets to flex it during the final scenes, but they wrap things up nicely (particularly the disturbing final shot). Dionne is a dead ringer for a young Gary Cole (or an Italian Sam Rockwell), and he’s got the looks, cockiness, and self-aware sense of humor that this character needs down pat (we do have to be kept wondering whether or not he’s a psycho for pretty much the whole film, and he smoothly plays both sides of the coin without mugging or copping to cliché). And the woman playing the batty Helen is just delicious – pure witchy fun, in the style of the classics (you know, back when filmmakers and actors really understood the theatrics inherent in genre films, remember?).

While we all love a good skin flick, the majority of gay films make a huge mistake by over-sexing themselves (case in point: the downright disgusting Another Gay Movie, which failed both as a comedy and as a porn – it should have picked one and stuck with it). I don’t go to a thriller to beat off – at least, not the first time, when I’m generally more interested in the story. But without being vulgar or porny, Blood manages some pretty hot moments that are both arousing and entirely necessary to the story (I can’t mention why, but trust me, they are). If you’re a guy (or gal) with straight boy campus fantasies, this one’s for you.

In all, I’m thrilled to be able to recommend In the Blood as it begins its journey, wherever that journey may lead it. If you see it at a festival near you, definitely check it out – and here’s to hoping that it gets at least a DVD release so that everyone can enjoy it as intended. Well-written, well-directed, well-shot, well-acted, and – well, just plain good – In the Blood is a promising film from first-time feature writer/director Lou Peterson and an example of what old-fashioned storytelling and direction can do for an indie genre flick. Not to mention hot college guys.

Rating (out of 5):