Aaron's Blood (2016)

JUNE 1, 2017


Hey, have I mentioned that I have a kid now?

I joke, of course - I know I can't talk (well, write) for five minutes (sentences) without bringing up my new, mostly wonderful job as father, but it really does have a profound effect on how I watch horror movies, and I don't just mean that it takes me a week to get through one because I never have 90 minutes to myself. It's wearing off some, but I get more worked up whenever kids are killed or in danger, and find myself feeling sad at the weirdest things. There's one Friday the 13th sequel (Final Chapter, I think) where we just see some crying parents in the hospital, and it bummed me out last time I watched! It dawned on me for the first time that some (yes, fictional) parent probably had to muster up the courage to let their beloved son or daughter go off for the weekend, and now they're dead - and so I start thinking that I'll never let my kid do the same. So when I read the plot of Aaron's Blood, I knew it was right up my alley, as it involved a father being torn between his love for his kid and his own conscience when the boy turned into a blood-needing vampire.

Now, when it comes to masked maniacs, there's a slim, but not impossible chance my son could find himself the victim of one someday, but I don't believe vampires exist, so I can watch this kind of a plot without hyperventilating at the possibilities, while also considering them in the hypothetical. WHAT IF my beloved Will (who just turned 3, by the way) turned into a vampire and needed human blood to survive? Would I be able to bring myself to kill innocent people (also someone's child) to keep him alive, or would I mercy-kill him in order to spare him the agony of immortality? I mean, sure, blood is blood and thus I could conceivably get it from prisoners or right-wing nationalists in order to lessen the guilt, but it's easier said than done, and that's just the hunger part of it. He couldn't go out in the sun anymore, so he'd have to stay home - and thus I'd have to stay home as well, which means no work. How do *I* survive, in this case?

Literally dozens of these questions ran through my head while watching, more than making up for the fact that the movie doesn't really offer much that you haven't seen in the likes of Maggie (albeit with a zombie) or Let The Right One In, among others. The father/son dynamic is the biggest wrinkle, as it's often a father and daughter (or a couple) that go through these "whatever it takes to keep my loved one alive" scenarios, but the script finds precious few moments for the two of them to bond or even really talk at all. Unlike Maggie, which kept things (too) simple, the movie offers a subplot involving a Van Helsing-y type who wants to kill the vampires but is also sympathetic to the father's situation, as the kid is all he has (the mother died some time ago). There's also a priest who wrestles with the implications and offers advice/exposition, plus his sister, and so the father (James Martinez, who was in another "Dad protects son" movie, the underrated Run All Night) spends more of his screentime with these folks than he does with his kid. As a result, the appeal is somewhat muted - you really need to see how deep his bond with his son is to go along 100% with his actions throughout the film.

It probably wouldn't have hurt to see more of the story from the kid's POV, either. Early on we get the usual scenes of him getting stronger and finding out how hard it can be to be a vampire (no sun!), but as the movie goes on he is kind of backgrounded in favor of the dad's attempts to save him. The DVD has some deleted scenes and I wasn't surprised to see that they all involved him - more stuff at school, setting up more antagonism with the obligatory bully, etc. I mean, the hook of the film is how the father-son bond is challenged by this new development, at a time when kids tend to start being more independent, so it's odd that writer/director Tommy Stovall kept muddling up that appeal with pointless diversions like the dad trying to track down the blood donor that caused the vampirism in the first place, because that stuff just isn't as interesting (at least, to me).

Indeed, the best moments are those quiet ones that kinda pulled at my dad-strings. Just this morning my kid seemed disinterested in his usual hug and kiss goodbye when I dropped him off at daycare, and so a scene where the dad considers the idea that his son will stay a young boy (11 or 12ish, in this case) forever kinda hit hard - I'm not sure I can handle the "Dad you're embarrassing me" era, and wouldn't mind always having him small enough to cuddle up with me to watch cartoons as he someday won't want to do. There's also a scene where the kid questions why the dad no longer uses one of his old nicknames on him ("Because you told me to stop calling you that," the dad sadly replies), which flooded me with memories of when I, as an adolescent, would feel a bit sad that I was too big to say "mommy/daddy" anymore - just because you want to grow up doesn't mean you want to shed yourself of all the benefits that come from being a nearly helpless toddler. It's this sort of stuff that really gave the movie its appeal to me, and I'm curious how non-parents will react to it - will it just be "boring talk" that delays the vampire action?

Being that this is a low-budget independent film, I trust no one will walk in expecting Blade levels of carnage. The body count is low, but they make those moments count with some decent vampire makeup and an admirable acceleration to the "turning" process; Tate is drinking blood at around the 25 minute mark, so there's no slow burn "save it for the third act" bullshit. And they splash real fake blood on actors' faces during the kills, so kudos for that as well. One good thing about the dad keeping so busy by meeting folks who can help is that it keeps things moving even though there isn't much traditional fangplay. It's a short movie (barely over 80 minutes), but the pacing surprisingly made it feel even shorter - I was actually kind of surprised when it ended, thinking it was only a little over an hour or so since it started.

Overall it's a well-intentioned film that tends to focus on less interesting things a bit too often, somewhat handicapping its chances to be something truly special. It's enjoyable and reasonably well made, but there are probably 20 or so minutes devoted to the same sort of "vampires must be stopped!" kinda hooey that we've all seen a zillion times. Perhaps if the two primary characters went on a road trip or something, minimizing how much time the supporting cast could drop in, Stovall and his team would have really hit it out of the park. But if you enjoy these low-key vampire flicks, and/or want something besides Field of Dreams to watch with your dad next Sunday, it's worth checking out. The disc has a smattering of standard extras (behind the scenes, trailer, and the aforementioned deleted scenes) to sweeten the deal, though I'm sure VOD (and apparently even a small theatrical run) will be where most people see it. I'll keep the disc, however - if my kid turns out to like horror movies maybe I can show it to him in time for him to think twice about telling me not to call him "Pookie" anymore, when he sees how sad the kid felt when he realized his dad stopped using his pet names in favor of his real one!

What say you?


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