“Orlok-style Vampire mom vs. Gruberesque terrorists on a plane” is a neat idea. Alas, Blood Red Sky drives stakes through itself at every turn.
Nadja (Peri Baumeister, The Last Kingdom), a cautious, brittle woman battling a terrifying illness, boards an overnight flight from Germany to the United States. With her is Elias (Carl Anton Koch), her sweet, precocious son. They’re hoping to make a new start in America, where a talented team of doctors wait to help Nadja find a cure for her sickness. While at the gate, Elias befriends Farid (Kais Setti, Dogs of Berlin)—a kind young man bound for a conference.
Alas, Farid will miss his conference. And Nadja and Elias will not be meeting the medical team. Not long into the flight, a band of ruthless skyjackers, led by the coldly pragmatic Berg (Dominic Purcell, Legends of Tomorrow), makes their play. They want money, and they’re happy to burn as many lives as it takes to get it—especially the gleeful, twisted Eightball (Alexander Scheer, Carlos). Despite her terror, Nadja will do anything to protect Elias. Even embrace the “illness” she has lived in fear of ever since a fateful, snowy night.
Nadja’s illness? Vampirism. She is a full-blown, no-nonsense vampire in the Orlok mold. She’s fast, she’s powerful, and she has a cause greater than money or sadism. But her hunger is mighty. The overwhelming drive to feast on blood eats away at Nadja and only grows stronger the more she wields her vampiric might. To save her son, Nadja may have to sacrifice her soul.
Blood Red Sky has two neat ideas: a vampire mom pulls a McClane on a plane and the challenges of being a young, single parent who’s battling vampirism. It also boasts some fun make-up work from Mark Coulier (Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria and Sunshine, amongst others) and a solidly performed lead turn from Baumeister. Otherwise, it’s dreadful.
Blood Red Sky‘s pacing is simultaneously draggy and rushed, wringing out all potential tension from the tale it’s telling. Its cinematography is flat, sallow, and in places downright ugly. Its editing both discombobulates the action choreography—which has a poor sense of geography and primarily equates vampirism with constant herky-jerkiness—and obscures the genuinely well-done creature effects.
And its script? Blood Red Sky‘s script is an utter boondoggle. It hops around in time with little care or thought. It opens with an in-media-res prologue whose primary purpose seems to be getting the most out of Graham McTavish’s brief appearance as a splendidly-bearded military type. It interrupts a tense action scene for a languid flashback whose connection to present events doesn’t justify puncturing what momentum Blood Red Sky had managed to scrounge up.
The intriguing ideas Blood Red Sky brings to play go to waste.
Nadja has a decent character arc that gives Baumeister something to (sorry) sink her teeth into, but she’s alone in that regard. Setti plays warm-hearted well, but poor Farid exists to be a Muslim man for the primarily white mercenaries to threaten and to have other horrible things happen to him. Koch is stuck playing irritatingly precocious, a wise-beyond-his-years child who feels out of sync with the rest of the script.
The unhinged cruelty Scheer has to work with as Eightball is stale, and it does not help that his cover identity is that of a painfully caricatured sassy gay flight attendant. Purcell is present and reasonably menacing, but only briefly. The intriguing ideas Blood Red Sky brings to play go to waste. The poorly sculpted action narrative and staid choreography suck dry the potential thrills of a vampire battling Hans Gruber types. And the rich potential of a mother’s love made for her son being made fraught by her vampirism remains untapped. Elias and Nadja’s story is little more than a rushed-yet-pulled-thin sketch.
Director/writer Peter Thorwarth and co-writer Stefan Holtz make Elias Nadja’s wise-beyond-his-years protector and Nadja Elias’ tragic guardian who’d do anything to protect him. Baumeister and Koch do what they can with this, but the hints of something more complex that pop up here and there are frustrating in the unexplored possibilities they suggest.
And to be blunt? Blood Red Sky is the worst sort of mean. Unlike Wrath of Man, whose viciousness was intentional and pointed and tied to its core theme, Blood Red Sky revels in cruelty in a hollow attempt at edginess. When awful things happen to innocent people, there’s nothing beyond the shallows of poorly executed awfulness–no pathos or care or thought. It’s just plain poor filmcraft, the sort that leaves a sour aftertaste.
Indeed, “sour” is a pretty great descriptor for Blood Red Sky as a whole. It mishandles or undercooks its most intriguing ideas. It gets in the way of its best aspects—Baumeister’s performance and the Nosferatu-esque make-up work. It’s vicious without doing the work to make that work. And it’s boring, almost impressively so. A movie with a gunfight between vampires on a jet should not be dull. Blood Red Sky is dull.
Skip Blood Red Sky. If you’re in the mood for a picture with a thrilling skyjacking sequence, check out Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway. If you’re craving a stylish modern-day vampire story with killer action and parent-child relationships made fraught by vampirism, Blade rules.
Blood Red Sky releases on July 23rd on Netflix.