Trust, family and race lie at the heart of Blood Conscious.
Kevin (Oghenero Gbaje), his big sister Brittney (DeShawn White), and her fiancé Tony (Lenny Thomas) are heading to a vacation cabin to join their parents. When they arrive, they find the dead bodies of their parents and surrounding neighbours littering the nearby dock. Trying to process the shock, they are accosted by a man with a shotgun (Nick Damici) who swears he killed demons instead of innocent people. After leading them back to the cabin, he takes their phones and leaves the scene in their car. The trio must figure out how to find help before the crazed shooter returns.
Written and directed by Tom Covell, Blood Conscious is more than just a horror thriller. Covell stated that the film isn’t so much about race in the extensive production notes, but “racism is very much present throughout the film.” Unpacking this took some time for me. I sound like a broken record, but storylines tend to have more nuance with the addition of Black actors. With a white writer/director at the helm, there is also the slippery slope of something being too overdone or without thought. White creators need to sit down with their subject matter, meditate on why they are creating roles for Black actors (or POC actors in general), and work with their Black cast to create fully realized characters because Black people are not a monolith and we don’t live as stereotypes despite what you’ve heard. For the most part, Covell avoids the trap of blindly approaching Black characters. As a Black person, I immediately thought of the characters’ well-being throughout the entire film, but I wasn’t the only one since they also thought of their Blackness. They were extremely self-aware and knew the consequences of being Black in spaces that may not be as welcoming. The terror of a crazed demon hunter didn’t overshadow their practicality and self-preservation tactics.
The cast was really good, but I felt I was watching a surreal stage production at times, with emotional scenes sometimes skyrocketing instead of a steadier ascent. I tip my hat, however, to a moment where a new character played by Lori Hammel is introduced, and her victim status escalates to a nuclear, demonic Karen vaguely reminiscent of the “Victoria’s Secret Karen.” I loved seeing Damici, who has been a frequent collaborator with Sweeth Tooth and Stake Land’s Jim Mickle, and I can’t wait to see more of Gbaje too. He manages to invoke the typical college kid with a more open and thoughtful mind than the others around him, the voice of suspicion in a situation that his elders try to rationalize blindly.
I think it was important for Covell to be hyper-aware of the racial aspects of his film, and I’m glad he didn’t gloss over the obvious. Blood Conscious is ambitious, intriguing and tense, especially with the scoring by Sam Tyndall and Akari Uchiyama, and explores the “what-ifs” within the context of race. It all culminates with an interesting finale that may hit some with a thud and others with deeper contemplation.
See Blood Conscious streaming now on your favourite platforms.