Written by Patrick von Barkenberg and Andréa Winter and directed by von Barkenberg, Blood Paradise is a mind-bending horror movie that joins Midsommar as another film trying to sell you on the horrors of Sweden. Both films transport their leads to the mysterious European land where they feel like fish out of water, and much like Ari Aster's sophomore feature, von Barkenber's debut couples skin-crawling suspense with captivating visuals. Artsploitation Films recently released the film on Blu-ray and DVD and were kind enough to provide me with a copy to review.
Best-selling crime writer Robin Richards (Andréa Winter) is sent by her publisher (who's most likely looking to boost her own financial intake) to the Swedish countryside to regain inspiration after her most recent novel flops. Instead of relaxation, she comes across an assortment of peculiar and possibly dangerous characters, including her driver and most obsessive fan, Hans (Christer Cavallius), his explosively jealous wife, and the progressively more unhinged man who owns the farm, Rolf (Rolf Brunnström). There’s also the puzzling presence of Rolf's bizarre, mute sister (Ingrid Hedström), who roams the farm with an antique doll carriage. Inspired by their peculiar behavior, Robin is ultimately blinded by a desire to complete her latest masterpiece and soon discovers just how dangerous these oddballs may be.
Blood Paradise was a bit of a blind viewing for me, as I went into the film having only read a brief synopsis and having seen a short clip. I really should implement this approach with films I'll be reviewing more often, as expectations, more often than not, diminish my viewing experiences. However, being that this release comes from Artsploitation, who very often releases high-quality and unique indie features, I had a good feeling that I was in for a real treat.
From the very first scene, you can clearly tell that a lot of care went into the making of Blood Paradise, as the film is aesthetically pleasing from beginning to end. Veteran cinematographer Thomas Rist makes the most of every scene, from lingering shots of the gorgeous Swedish farmlands to claustrophobic POV moments that really ramp up tension, Blood Paradise looks incredibly polished and sleek. The same can be said about the score, composed by the film's lead actress, co-writer, producer, costume supervisor, and location scout, Andréa Winter. This multi-talented woman, who is also the Swedish Electropop musician Baby Yaga, created a hauntingly beautiful score, adding a surreal and dreamlike quality to the production. Overall, the creative contributions by Rist and Winter give the film an almost ethereal look and feel, ultimately blurring the line between reality and fantasy, and elevating Blood Paradise as a whole.
Knowing that Blood Paradise was a Swedish production, I half expected the film would suffer from the awkward accents and dialogue that often plague films featuring foreign actors speaking English, but ended up being insanely impressed by the very talented cast. Winter commands the screen as Robin, a character who's a part of the glitterati, yet very likeable. One minute she's rocking red leather pants and heels on a farm, the next she's barefoot and loading a couch onto the roof of a car. She shines in the role and it utterly enchanting to watch. Unfortunately, her character does make some dumb, easily avoidable horror movie decisions, which is upsetting, especially in this day and age when innovative storytelling is of utmost importance.
Von Barkenberg plays Robin’s boyfriend, Ted, who in contrast to his lover, is somewhat of a delicate flower and a big part of the film's comedic relief. He's a bit of an airhead and totally infatuated with himself. It's also nice to see a trophy boyfriend for a change. One of the other main vessels for the film’s humor is Christer Cavallius as Hans Bubi. In a way, he's a bit of a pervert, sneaking peeks at one or more of Robin’s body parts on multiple occasions, and snagging a pair of her panties as a keepsake. He skillfully captures the perfect blend of social awkwardness and overzealous wonderment, with a bit of creepiness thrown in for good measure. Although, despite his negative characteristics, Winters and von Barkenberg somehow made him one of the more sympathetic supporting characters, and we're never exactly sure if we should suspect his character has malicious intentions (aside from perversion) or not.
Rolf Brunnström’s also provides the film an additional weight with his acting talents and peculiar character development. Initially, he appears as a quiet farmhand who recently lost his beloved wife, Linda. Though, as the film progresses and he receives more screen-time, the kindly farmer act gives way to something much more sinister.
Plot-wise, Blood Paradise's premise is well-executed and the overall narrative does a great job with maintaining tension. You’re almost constantly caught off guard, be it by the film's tonal shifts or it's surrealist fever dream qualities, and while these elements may not mesh well with some viewers, I personally found it to be a very pleasurable viewing experience. My only gripe with the film is that its finale seemed a tad rushed. While the final moments do lead to a satisfying finale, I would've liked to have seen it all fleshed out just a little more.
All in all, as a feature debut, von Barkenberg and Winter have crafted an deftly gratifying experience with Blood Paradise. It has everything one could hope for in a deliciously strange feature, a talented, diverse cast, a solid script, stellar camerawork and sound, witty irony, dark humor, bizarre juxtapositions, the list goes on. I can't recommend this one enough, especially to those of you who appreciate distinctively artistic visions, much like that of the Coen Brothers or Tarantino. Basically, anyone with a strong sense of the absurd will find much to enjoy here. Von Barkenberg’s style is a refreshing breath of fresh air. He and Winter have brought some exciting new ideas to the table and I can't wait to see what their brilliant minds dream up next!
The Artsploitation Blu-ray release includes a handful of deleted scenes and two music videos from Baby Yaga. Both tracks carry a synthwave vibe, with one of the videos actually adding to the film’s darkly, humorous mythology. I do really wish that a "making-of" was included, as I would've loved to have seen what went into making this gem of a film. Maybe next time.
You can pick up your own copy of Blood Paradise, available now on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD/Digital from Artsploitation Films.