Bled came out in 2009, one of those straight-to-dvd flicks made by earnest filmmakers who don’t find distribution from a major studio. As such it belongs in the same category as Suck or Sundown The Vampire in Retreat or (a generation or so past) Lets Scare Jessica to Death.
A voice over begins the tale. “Someone once told me–a long, long time ago,” says a man “immortality comes not without sacrifice.” We see a shadowy figure take what looks like less than clean medical instruments from a bag. A huge syringe, attached to a large vial that looks stained with blood. “The fountain of youth is fed by the blood of the young. And living forever leaves a trail of the dead that haunts one’s dreams. Including mine.” Now we see a kind of drug paraphenalia. Plus a small wooden box.
Those words, done effectively with a raspy voice by actor Jonathan Oldham, pretty much set the mood. More, they in theory tide you over until the really interesting stuff gets going. Here we have the single biggest problem. While we may find ourselves drawn into the lives of the four main characters, it takes time. For the first twenty minutes or so, we watch and they just aren’t that interesting. After some truly lovely opening credits (the screenwriter also did the production design), we meet them.
Sai (Sarah Farooqui), an artist living in a downtown warehouse, has a style that explores death and darkness. Her circle includes three close friends, none of whom totally understand her. Royce (Chris Ivan Cevic) her best friend, who loves and is loved although have acted. Eric (Alex Petrovitch), a charming hustler, keeps Said’s gal pal Kerra (Michelle Morrow) on a string.
At a gallery opening we meet them all but don’t really care. My own attention went to a minor character, a young man who clearly admires Sai’s work very much, walking with a cane and speaking with some kind of impediment. But he exits soon and we see instead Sai meet the man whose voice we heard earlier. His name is Renfield Lieb, and she invites him back to her loft. There, he indicates just how much they have in common–a hunger for exploring the dark, the destructive, the dangerous. I began to be interested, especially when Renfield introduced her to a new drug, an Eastern European bark called strigois. He promised to be there for her as she tripped, but once Sai breathed the fumes, Renfield left. At that point she found herself in a kind of dream world, a beautiful but dark garden where an image of the man she loved (actually a Noferatu-esque creature) ravished her. More, he bared fangs and drove them into Sai’s throat!
By this point the visuals, ideas and mood grabbed my attention and kept it. More than almost any other vampire film, this one truly made a parallel with addiction. All kinds. The predatory incubus of Sai’s dreams comes across even as strangely innocent. It at least obeys its nature. No real choice there. Sai on the other hand dives into these new sensations like an alcoholic given keys to a wine cellar. She shows off by letting others have a taste. Eric likes it so much he steals and begins his own little bit of recklessness. But even as Sai begins to see her own damnation, and Kerra finds herself destroyed, the real villain increasingly shows himself. Renfield. He even says he’s sorry to his victims, all while ruthless setting out to use them far worse than any rapist. One of those proves to be the vampire itself.
The idea and look of the story remain superior to most of the execution, especially in the first act. But anyone willing to wade through the first twenty minutes or so may find this film an intriguing dark fairy tale. A tragedy, and yet also an example of heroism. One where the best and worst of humanity stands in sharp relief.
Not for everyone. Its focus remains too precise, too narrow, its feel unrelenting. Much of the film remains dark in both color as well as mood, with the interesting detail that those scenes with the most light end up feeling the most surreal. Sometimes, the most dark. No one emerges unscathed while the ending remains open in all kinds of ways. Frankly, had it been more successfully put together in that first act, methinks this might have proven a good start for a series of vampire films. But either way, it remains something of a gem– a blood-stained onyx for those of us with taste for that kind of thing.