Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Jeremy Wooding
Writer: Alan Wightman
Producer: Michael Vine, Jeremy Wooding
Stars: George Blagden, Raffaello Degruttola, Shaun Dooley, Jack Fox, Corey Johnson, Eleanor Matsuura, Amber Jean Rowan, Anna Skellern, Ian Whyte
Stagecoach passengers waylaid by outlaws are stalked by a legendary creature in a frontier ghost town.
Ever since the nearby silver mine dried into dust, the population of frontier ghost town Pine Flats has dwindled to one: a lonely hotel caretaker anxious to entertain weary travelers with a shot of whisky or a plate of beans. That population is about to decrease by the same number when the fearsomely furry claws of a Navajo legend come to life rip right into the grizzled coot’s neck.
Forty miles away in Lassiter, a pair of brotherly bandits sling bullets into a banker and cash bags over their saddles, putting a lawman and his Native American tracker hot on their trail. All paths soon collide back in Pine Flats, where a ragtag band of stagecoach passengers is also waylaid, and the beast from before now has a whole host of humans with which to feed its insatiably savage appetite.
Purportedly only the second ever western filmed in the United Kingdom, “Blood Moon” is assuredly the only one of those two featuring werewolves among its sheriffs and saloon girls. Perhaps more unique than filming Kent, England for wild west Colorado, and doing a convincing job of it, is the sleek tweak Alan Wightman’s script gives to the usual lycanthrope lore.
The creatures of “Blood Moon” follow expected rules of full moons and silver bullets, but these beasts are called “skinwalkers,” said by superstition to be fierce warriors banished from their tribe for daring to delve into the darks arts of shapeshifting. It’s a slick little spin on routine wolfman mythology, and one lending a distinctly Native American flavor befitting the film’s western theme.
No one is likely to mistake the movie’s depiction of outlaws on horseback for a slice of lost time pulled directly from history. Nor should anyone anticipate the production value of “Deadwood” mixed with an episode of “Tales from the Crypt.” Although for an indie project counting nickels and dimes, “Blood Moon” makes the most of its throwback tone and puts as authentic of an atmosphere onscreen as anyone could under the circumstances.
Pine Flats and Lassiter are clearly standing sets on a rented lot somewhere. We’re talking those familiar L-shaped rows where pre-existing buildings are generically labeled “Livery,” “Blacksmith,” “Undertaker,” and “Bank.” But corners aren’t cut on other details. Some are predictable props of player pianos, gas lamps, dirty prospecting hats, and kerchief-wearing bandits in bowler hats, while others include more meticulously-made set décor such as multi-layered costumes, ornate wallpaper, and full four-horse teams pulling wooden-wheeled wagons through sloppy mud ruts. “Blood Moon” may not be transporting viewers through time, but production design puts in an earnest effort and then some to deliver a laudable look.
There’s even an easily overlooked, yet period accurate wanted poster featuring The Apache Kid on one wall. I checked. The movie is set in 1887 and sure enough, The Apache Kid was indeed on the run during the first half of that year. Now whether or not a portrait of Abraham Lincoln would still be displayed 22 years after his assassination is a different debate. Then again, the movie doesn’t specify exactly when that saloon went belly up, so who knows how long Honest Abe has adorned its wall.
A roster including standard staples such as a nebbish reporter, a bible-clutching preacher, a widowed tough girl, and a mysterious gunman cannot help but come off clichéd. Though once again, “Blood Moon” makes it easier to grant a pass to passé when likable actors keep characterizations mostly on mark with the right amount of charisma. Nothing in the movie is played with an outright knowing wink, though there is subtle good humor lying underneath, suggesting castmembers are enjoying their job without turning that job into a joke.
Cut from the same cloth as the Man with No Name, calmly cool cowboy Calhoun brings to mind David Morse and a rounder Russell Crowe, with actor Shaun Dooley’s screen presence channeling something akin to what a merger of those two men might be like. Familiar face Corey Johnson is uncharacteristically out of tune with the 80% serious/20% sly vibe everyone else goes with, however. Johnson opts for a 50/50 ratio by choosing to impersonate Billy Bob Thornton from “Sling Blade” with an overboard drawl of cowboy gruffness. It’s a distraction.
For all the high noon showdowns “Blood Moon” wins against minor drawbacks, it is outdrawn by a major one: rhythm, and an inability to maintain it. The screenplay primarily puts off character development until act three, when the pace is upended by pauses like a belated revelation about the deputy’s wife not being the person she claims. Bits of backstory like these come too late to change any relationships or impact the outcome. It’s as if “Blood Moon” builds backwards, frontloading itself with action and ending in unnecessary exposition.
More disappointing for horror fans is that the film is frustratingly frugal with its werewolf reveal. A first glimpse of the creature’s face doesn’t come until under a half-hour remains in the runtime, and the Jell-O jiggle to the beast’s prosthetic snout hardly makes the wait worth it.
It’s a pity that “Blood Moon” stops shoveling coal into its engine and runs out of steam before reaching full stride, though a bulk of components still work in the film’s favor. While the huffing and puffing ends without a house blowing down, the ambition motivating the enthusiastic existence of a slim-budget cowboys and monsters mashup is nonetheless admirable. “Blood Moon” earns some attention as a worthwhile effort, just be sure to brace expectations for a werewolf western that has more of the latter than it does of the former. Then make sure to be mindful that it is still a mildly quiet western at that.
Review Score: 65