The stories of Clive Barker — one of the most famous horror writers of our generation — are violent and unforgiving. Moral clarity often gets tossed aside in favor of highlighting the animalistic behavior of the characters populating the stories. Blood is spurting everywhere, body parts get chopped here and there. Each page is basically a practice of horror masochism, with demons, human-eating monsters, and all kinds of supernatural elements coming in and out in the most grotesque way possible. And yet, despite all of that, plenty of adaptations have been made based on Barker‘s collection of short stories “Books of Blood,” though most of them — with an exception of Bernard Rose‘s Candyman — failed to capture what makes the original source so engaging in the first place.
The latest to take on the daunting challenge of projecting Barker‘s insane vision on to the screen is Brannon Braga with his Hulu horror anthology Books of Blood (drops 7 October). But where all the previous adaptations tend to only focus on one story and do so in a faithful way, Braga tries to do something different: creating new stories while trying to seamlessly bring the spirit from the original source into his script. The result is a bit of a mixed bag; on one hand, the movie does indeed scream Clive Barker, but on the other hand, and for the most part, Braga‘s new stories aren’t really that interesting, and even a little boring.
Three Incoherent Stories
Books of Blood is divided into three different but interconnected storylines. The first one focuses on Jenna (Britt Robertson), a hypersensitive young girl with misophonia who tries to escape from her suffocating parents but ends up in a more precarious situation after she gets entangled with a mysterious B&B owner named Ellie (Freda Foh Shen). The second storyline is loosely inspired by the first chapter of the original source, in which a brilliant psychologist named Mary (Anna Friel) is seduced by the handsome and charismatic Simon (Rafi Gavron) after he convinces her that he can communicate with her 7-year-old son who has just passed away from leukemia.
While the two first storylines unfold individually, the final vignette of the movie, where a professional killer named Bennett (Yul Vazquez) is on a quest to get his hand on something called the book of blood, attempts to sorta connect all of them into one but doesn’t really give anything insightful to the previous chapters. It’s not that the three stories do not share similarities; the problem here happens because Braga can’t seem to find a coherent way to tie them into one big conclusion. By the time you get to the final moment of the movie, it is most likely that you won’t be satisfied with how it ends, especially if you’re a big fan of Barker‘s work.
Books of Blood, however, suffers the most from the way it observes its characters. In most of Barker‘s stories, the characters are never portrayed as sympathetic. If anything, it’s their dark side which usually gets underscored by Barker. But that unforgiving approach is part of the reason why people are so drawn into this universe. It shows us how sometimes in this world, immorality can trump anything good. Braga, on the other hand, attempts to negate that aspect from the original source by trying to give his characters a certain degree of complexity and sympathy.
Take, for instance, Jenna. In the movie, she is introduced as someone who suffers not only from her unique hearing disorder but also from a trauma that happened in her past. Her escape attempt from her parents to start anew in Los Angeles, in a way, represents a liberation of a young girl who might have been subjected to abuse and manipulation by her own family (the movie never explicitly says what happens to Jenna, but the clues are there). So in that regard, Braga suggests that we should root for Jenna’s survival and safety, which is frankly not a problem if we’re talking about different source material.
In Barker‘s world, no one is rootable. The excitement of reading his book largely lies in the way the characters self-destruct and put themselves in a dangerous situation. Meanwhile, what Books of Blood does here is almost the complete opposite. It wants to build a universe that’s not so much in-line with Barker‘s vision. It’s honestly a little surprising that Barker himself has his name on the movie as an executive producer, knowing how the movie is so reluctant on going full in on the tone of his own book.
Lack of Everything
That the performances from the actors are mostly average certainly do not help either. Robertson has nothing much to do aside from looking afraid all the time. Even when her character is trying so hard to run away from a dangerous situation, she can’t really display her desire to survive. Frail and Gavron‘s chemistry also seems off. The sexual tension between their characters does not feel believable at all. It really is a mess.
On a technical aspect, the horror elements that Braga crafts here are also far from inventive. Yes, there are a lot of different shades of horror here; from psychological and gore to supernatural and body-horror. But instead of finding a compelling way to flesh out those layers of horror, Braga chooses to lean heavily on the cliche. Jump-scares happen way too much. The irritating, loud sound design and score feel manipulative. There’s just no subtlety in the way Books of Blood introduces the dreadfulness that the characters are facing.
Worst of all though, so little actually happens in the movie that it’s hard to stay interested until the very end. Many scenes feel repetitive and amount to nothing. Even the twist at the end of the movie that’s supposed to shock us winds up more unnecessary as opposed to exciting. And as a result, what could’ve been a promising Clive Barker‘s adaptation ends up as just another forgettable horror anthology.
There’s no doubt of how ambitious Braga is at bringing Barker‘s vision onto the screen while trying to give his own spin on it. But while the concept and new stories sound promising, Braga‘s lack of clear direction and the uninspired execution from nearly every aspect of the movie sadly makes Books of Blood so toothless in the end.
What do you think of the twist at the end of the movie? Let us know in the comments below!
Books of Blood drops 7 October on Hulu.
Watch Books of Blood
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