Blood Moon Review: Werewolf Western Making its Digital/DVD Debut on September 1st

Here is the official synopsis for Blood Moon:

1887. Colorado. A deserted town lit by the glow of a reddish full moon. A stagecoach full of passengers and an enigmatic gunslinger find themselves prisoners of two outlaws on the run. As the travelers attempt to outwit the outlaws it becomes apparent that a bigger menace lurks outside; a beast that only appears on the night of a blood red moon.

Shaun Dooley as Calhoun in Blood Moon

Blood Moon attempts to take two disparate genres – the Western and the werewolf horror flick – and meld them together, ostensibly with the hope that a new setting for a classic scary story will put a fresh spin on things. Instead, the elements of the two never fully cohere, leaving us with a movie that only does half of each thing it's aiming to do.

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To quickly sum up the rather formulaic set-up of the film: two dimwitted bank-robbers/murderers, brothers Jeb and Hank Norton, are pursued by Wade, the local lawman, who is begrudgingly accompanied on his quest by a Native American woman, Black Deer. The Norton brothers manage to overtake and hold hostage a group of strangers who were traveling together by coach, and who are now stuck holed up with the bandits in an abandoned saloon.

The strangers in the coach include newlyweds lawman Jake and his wife Sarah, mysterious gunslinger Calhoun, widowed Mrs. Marie Cooper, and baby-faced English newsman Henry. Tensions rise as the group is circled by a mysterious creature – a Skinwalker, who has transformed into a ravenous wolf-man creature.

Blood Moon is certainly ambitious, and it does have its share of fun moments. The film, by UK-based director Jeremy Wooding, features a largely British cast, and many of them do an admirable job of mimicking the recognizable Old West manner of speaking. Shaun Dooley, as the mysterious gunslinger Calhoun, for one, does a believable job with his accent. Others do a... less believable job, to put it mildly. A few seem to altogether give up on any adherence to the distinctive twang by the movie's final third.

Several of the cast also do a very good job with the rather underdeveloped characters they are assigned. I'm thinking in particular of Dooley, again, as well as Anna Skellern as Mrs. Marie Cooper, the ballsy widowed saloon owner who's quick on her feet and brandishes a very tiny pistol. The sporadic romantic tension between the two, while oddly-timed given the life-or-death goings-on occurring around them for the actual entirety of the film, is definitely a high point for me.

The movie is short; at under 90 minutes, it is understandable that many of the rather large cast do not get a chance at organic character development. Organic plot development, too, is often thrown to the wayside in favor of expository, often wooden dialogue.

Most noticeably, at times the ensemble cast seems just slightly too large – unwieldy, if we're being completely honest. Jeb and Hank, as one conjoined example, are nigh-unbearably stupid. Granted, this provided a few moments of light-hearted amusement (such as Marie giving Hank a hard time about his very prominent spitting habit), but by and large they are too annoying to seem like much of a legitimate threat. Several of the stagecoach folks are dispatched of so quickly that I have to wonder why they were even in the movie and identified by name to begin with.

The entire subplot with Wade (Jake-the-Lawman's equally lawful cousin) and Black Deer (the brash, alcoholic Native American woman accompanying him) seems completely off and out of place within the film. Wade (aside from being Jake's cousin) is irrelevant to the rest of the plot, and the fact that he doesn't interact with any of the rest of the principal cast until the last 15 or so minutes of the film certainly doesn't help integrate the two simultaneously occurring stories.

The Wade and Black Deer asides just seem like wastes of time in an already short film. Black Deer is a caricature of a character and the "twist" involving her is oddly shoehorned into the film, with no larger ramifications or follow-up. It's just a throwaway. Wade's hero moment at the end is completely ridiculous and unbelievable. Also, he is a bit of a moron (offhandedly declaring Calhoun dead when the man was barely even knocked out? What was that?)

As I mentioned before, there were certainly some bright moments within the film. The dialogue and character interplay is at its best when a little silly (on purpose). A few legitimate jump-scares, including the guns-ablaze introduction of the Norton brothers to the stagecoach crew, occur early on in the film.

Once the beast is revealed fully on-screen, however, the whole thing kind of falls apart. The Skinwalker costume is patently awful and since the film is played completely straight, the awkwardly terrible costuming for the creature wrecks any legitimate fear that might have built up in the opening half of the film, when the werewolf lurks but doesn't appear on-screen.

The few decently creepy monster moments all occur when the beast is obscured; it is far more effectively scary when it simply can't be seen. The early-on werewolf POV shot, for instance, is pretty cool – angling the camera so we are seeing "through" the monster's eyes, paired with the low growling sound effect, was an interesting, unique choice.

All in all, the film is largely rote and predictable but worth a one-time watch – just don't go into it expecting legitimate scares or unique plot points.

Blood Moon is out on DVD and all digital platforms on September 1, 2015.

Official Blood Moon Poster
August 31, 2015