Writer/Director Timothy Covell’s Blood Conscious is a gripping horror thriller that touches on social commentary while delivering a good share of excitement and paranoia.
Brittney (DeShawn White), her university student younger brother Kevin (Oghenero Gbaje), and her fiancée Tony (Lenny Thomas) travel to Brittney’s and Kevin’s family lakeside cabin in the woods for a relaxing getaway with their parents. They explore the eerily quiet surroundings and Kevin discovers the bodies of his parents and their neighbors, who have all been shot or otherwise violently killed. The perpetrator — Nick Damici as “The Stranger” — sneaks up on them, demanding to know at gunpoint whether they are humans or, as he claims, demons who replaced the murder victims before he disposed of them.
The trio manages to overcome the stranger and lock him in the basement, where he continues to shout that they should protect themselves from the demons, who are on their way. Though Brittney and Tony insist that his pleas are only manipulation, Kevin begins to wonder, setting into play the film’s elements of paranoia, suspicion, and danger lurking around every corner.
Blood Conscious addresses racism and racial tension mostly at a surface level, but with realistic scenes, such as Brittney worrying about Tony — “a brother,” as she says in this scene — looking for help alone at night on a quiet rural road, and when a white woman comes looking for help at their cabin and begins accusing Tony and Kevin of things which viewers see quite differently, with Covell wisely keeping the trio of protagonists in high character status rather than making their behavior with her up in the air. The film is already shrouded in mystery and it would be an unnecessary element in these scenes. These sequences do, however, allow Kevin’s suspicions of whether demons are actually in the area to escalate, and tensions to rise further between the siblings and Tony.
Covell’s screenplay is well written with realistic and thoughtful dialogue and engaging main characters, though the amount of mystery at play in the climax may prove frustrating to some viewers. He directs wonderfully, with a fine sense of suspense and pacing, and an obvious knowledge of and love for horror films.
The cast is terrific. Gbaje, who won Panic Fest’s Best Actor award for this role, gives an intriguing multilayered performance as a young man who questions rational thinking and seeks answers that are uncomfortable to others. Thomas is solid as an alpha male who has no time for what he considers nonsense. White is impressive as the voice of reason of the group, and a referee between the two men. Damici — a welcome and familiar face to fright-fare cinema fans from roles in such films as Stake Land, Night of the Wolf, and Dark Was the Night — gives a strong turn here as a highly unreliable witness to the events that took place before the main trio arrived. “He’s no psychologist, but he is a psychopath,” as one character puts it.
Covell makes a stirring feature-length debut as both a writer and director. Though the finale of Blood Conscious is bound to be a divisive one, the film is well worth a watch when it receives its release in select theaters and on Digital/VOD platforms on August 20th from Dark Sky Films.
Blood Conscious screened as part of Panic Fest, which took place from April 8–18, 2021. #panicfest2021