BITS 2014: Queen of Blood
I could apply any number of adjectives to Queen of Blood, the latest effort from filmmaker (and Fangoria editor-in-chief) Chris Alexander. Among those adjectives are “haunting,” “visionary,” “singular” and “challenging.” Shauna Henry plays the titular Queen, a vampire who emerges from a river and proceeds to leave a trail of victims across the American Frontier. Her destiny is intertwined with a pregnant widow (Carrie Gammell) and itinerant preacher-slash-serial killer (Nivek Ogre, best known as the frontman of legendary industrial band Skinny Puppy).
Unfortunately, one of the adjectives I can’t apply to Queen of Blood is “coherent.” The film is entirely silent, featuring no audible dialogue and only a few vocal effects. Nor are there any captions or dialog cards. It’s entirely up to the audience to work out what’s going on from the pictures alone. I am still in the dark about what Alexander intended the connection between the Queen and the preacher to be. Ogre gets the second-most amount of screen time after Henry, but ultimately his actions are of little consequence. Nor do I understand exactly what happens between the Queen and the widow. What little plot exists isn’t enough to sustain seventy-seven minute running time, and the film moves at a glacial pace.
To be fair to Alexander, however, I can’t imagine that the plot was much of a priority. Queen of Blood is more of an impressionistic art piece. The visuals are nothing short of breathtakingly beautiful, even if the cinematography is occasionally betrayed by the cheap look of consumer-grade DV. Alexander’s primary aesthetic influence seems to be the films of exploitation-era French director Jean Rollin; in particular, it’s hard not to watch the ghostly Henry stride across the lush landscape in her flowing white gown and not be reminded of Françoise Blanchard, who did something similar in The Living Dead Girl. (One point in which Alexander deviates from Rollin is in his portrayal of the erotic: while many scenes have sexual undertones, “undertones” is as far as it goes. Rollin’s work, on the other hand, relies heavily on gratuitous nudity).
In a film like this, it’s hard to truly judge the performances. However, I must say that both Henry and Ogre have strong presence, with the former often seeming ethereal and not-quite-entirely-there, and the latter radiating real menace. The performances do seem unnecessarily exaggerated and theatrical. A great example is Henry’s walk, which is probably meant to be deliberate but too often resembles a bride slowly approaching her wedding altar.
Ultimately, you’ll either “get” Queen of Blood or you won’t. Sadly, I didn’t–the pictures are pretty, but I tend to value storytelling and characterization, neither of which are the strong points here. However, while I found it very difficult to like, I also found it quite easy to admire. Despite wearing its influences on its sleeve, it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. Chris Alexander has an unmistakeable vision and while the film has its flaws (at least in my estimation) that vision shines through. I hope an audience exists for a film like this, and that it will reach that audience.
Today, 4 PM, Carlton Cinema