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Blood Red Sky (15)
Starring: Peri Baumeister, Carl Anton Koch, Alexander Sheer
Review: Dave Stephens
Transatlantic commercial flying is terrifying when you really stop and think about it. Trapped, strapped to a seat hurtling miles above across vast expanses of deep water in a pressurised metal tube with wings (*cancels holiday*). So it's no wonder that this scenario has led to popular thrillers like the Airport films in the 70s, and actioners like Passenger 57 or Snakes on a Plane. Horror has its hand in this sub-genre too, with films like Flight 7500, Panic Button, and Flight of the Living Dead (yes, that exists). Blood Red Sky is the latest attempt to mine the potential of airborne blood-letting and is the next Netflix original film to be heavily promoted. It stars Peri Baumeister (probably best known for the BBC series The Last Kingdom) and Dominic Purcell from Prison Break, having been directed by German Filmmaker Peter Thorwarth. It is available to stream from 23rd July onwards, and of course, we had to take a look.
The plot starts with an apparently hijacked plane landing at a Scottish airport after the inexperienced pilot has been talked down by air traffic control. It was a transatlantic flight from Germany to New York, and the narrative quickly zaps back to about a day or so before the landing, where we are introduced to Germanic widow Nadja (an excellent Baumeister) and her young son Elias (Carl Anton Koch). Nadja appears to be suffering from a degenerative disease and is flying to the states for treatment. She wears a wig to cover her baldness and regularly chugs and injects medicine. When the flight takes off, things soon descend into terror and chaos as a group of well-organised terrorists take change and divert the plane. To tackle these ice-cold killers, one passenger is going to have to give in to the beast within…
Yeah, you know where this is going. Promotions, synopses, and most reviews aren't very shy with the genre details. It's such an integral part of the plot (and indeed a good premise) that it remains impossible not to elaborate on the blood-sucking shenanigans that kick-off. Mind you; if you don't twig what's going on in the first five minutes where Nadja avoids the sunlight and drinks "red liquid" from a medicine bottle, you don't deserve to call yourself a horror fan, frankly. The toothy promotional posters and the title kind of gives it away as well. Despite all that, and bar a couple of minor points, this is an exceptionally good horror-thriller that frequently tries to wrong-foot the viewer and steps away from too much predictability.
The plot has two major plus points that work in its favour. For a start, the terrorists are the most bastardy bastards to have ever bastarded in a hijacked airplane full of innocent people. Cold-blooded killers without a single moral between them, they pick children as hostages and slaughter passengers without a second thought. Also, oddly refreshing for a film like this, their motives and sponsors are kept murky, beyond their attempt to frame a specific ethnicity for the crime. The standout villain here is "Eightball", a sublimely deranged psychotic turn by Alexander Scheer. The other ace-in-the-pack is the performance of Baumeister. It's a great turn by the actress who veers convincingly from twitchy scared mother to feral threat in the blink of an eye. She pretty much carries the weight of the film, and all the emotional swerves, as devotion to Elias has her clinging onto humanity and trying to avoid the supernatural urges which may gradually consume her. It's a star performance, especially when she is buried under the (intentionally) "Nosferatu"-like prosthetics that are needed at points.
If you want a tonal reference, the film feels like a combination of 30 Days of Night and Passenger 57. But it avoids the lazy generic plot movements of studio thrillers by throwing occasional curve-balls in there. There are some lovely touches like; the relatively early death of a main character, cute and caged dogs treated with casual cruelness, ultra-violet torches being VERY useful, teeth being removed, hockey sticks used as stakes, and the surprise appearance of a bullet-proof car. And lots of the red-stuff being splashed about, obviously. From a plot perspective, perhaps the most satisfying factor is that it never descends into "just" a vampire vs bad guys romp. There's a lot of heart and unexpected directions which layer BRS into something much more substantial and enjoyable.
However, with a runtime of over 2 hours, it does feel a little overlong, and some moments could have been "tightened" a little in terms of pace. The moralising is somewhat heavy-handed at times ("I'll give you a million pounds to save my life!"). And it might seem to be mean (as Koch is a good child actor and emotes well in many scenes), but we could have done with a few less "Mama! Mama!" moments. Apart from those curmudgeonly gripes, this is a superior genre offering from Netflix. It is nicely subversive, thrilling, and surprisingly cruel; it provides a nice diversion for those who want to find a decent excuse (apart from the obvious one) to avoid the airports this year. Go ahead and stream it now, "aisle" recommend it for viewing.
For the most part, BRS is a genuinely thrilling and innovative ride for genre fans. It is a little overlong with some padding and some heavy-handed morality. Otherwise, it's a creative mix of horror tropes and airborne actioners. Baumeister is a brilliant lead, and the blood-soaked narrative plays nicely with expectations. Book a window seat now.
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