Director: Joseph Guerrieri, Justin Guerrieri
Writer: Joseph Guerrieri, Justin Guerrieri
Producer: Matthew Hsu, Vero Shamo-Garcia
Stars: Robert Picardo, Kandis Erickson, Trevor Torseth, Tim Barraco, Ray Campbell
Seven friends on a camping holiday find themselves the targets of a spree killer being hunted by the FBI.
A jeep blaring loud music honks its horn and screeches to a halt near a copse of trees. Out spills a trio of flip-flopped twentysomethings lugging a cooler, fist bumping four other friends, and spiking house keys into beer cans to signal the start of their outdoor getaway. Coming in hot behind an opening scene of an unknown assailant slaughtering campers in the forest, this is the moment when a viewer might understandably groan while slapping a palm over the eyes.
Is this really another horror movie about partying college kids killed one at a time by a madman in the woods? Not exactly. “Trail of Blood” intentionally puts in significant effort to give the first impression of a typical slasher film. And while it is a slasher at its core, it does all it can do to not be entirely typical.
“Trail of Blood” sets the stage for convention so that it can alter expectations before veering into an adjacent lane or into oncoming traffic. This is a movie that tries manufacturing thrills with sleight of hand and through twists that are not as unexpected as the story needs them to be.
“Trail of Blood” is the suspense equivalent of a magician dexterously shuffling cards to say, “look over there” while the real payoff turns out to be something else. The downside is that when it comes to expertly pulling off illusions, the movie is more of a mediocre cups-and-balls performer than a full-fledged David Copperfield.
Before adding shots of police procedural and psychological thriller into its bloodstream, “Trail of Blood” toys with being upfront about where the plot is headed and for what purpose. The effort is noble for going against the grain of routine maniac-killing-teens-in-the-woods boredom, but the intention exceeds the execution.
Red herrings regarding the killer’s identity and other misdirection moments about impending dangers fail to add tension because they are mistimed. Swelling stings and unknown hands grabbing from dark corners come too early in the runtime to be anything besides false scares. Other gimmicks hoping to bamboozle the audience into thinking a certain person is someone else are similarly far too telegraphed to be effective.
There might be some nail-biting potential in a few of these scenes, but “Trail of Blood” is sunk on creating a sympathetic lead due to poor character development choices that never see a payout. Jim, the main friend who does most of the bargaining with the killer and comes up with the escape plans that never work, is so cavalier in his “I got this” approach to interacting with insanity that it feels like he gets what he deserves when his ideas go belly up. His decisions are so stupid that instead of cheering in his corner, the urge rises to slap him and say, “well what did you expect was going to happen?”
“Trail of Blood” is decent enough for mild entertainment value. It just has a slight stench of stale plot devices wrinkling the nose without coming across as clever. The FBI agents trailing the murder suspect are alternatively within arm’s reach of the campers and then suddenly miles away. Depending on where the script needs them to be at any given time, they hear and follow certain gunshots while others never register at all. And while this is likely a personal inference, it is hard to take the Marine character seriously when he so closely resembles a mix between Hacksaw Jim Duggan and The Amazing Jonathan.
Other jagged edges further dull the film’s overall impact. Digital blood is too obvious. The connection between two characters being U.S. Marines strains overly hard to make sense. “Trail of Blood” is a movie that tries, and comes close, to doing something different than most films with similar starting points. In the end, it is a case of some eye-rolling individual moments and unconvincing miscellany adding up to a whole that is average, yet far from noteworthy.
Review Score: 55