Directed by: Peter Thorwarth || Produced by: Christian Becker, Benjamin Munz
Screenplay by: Peter Thorwarth, Stefan Holtz || Starring: Roland Moller, Peri Baumeister, Chidi Ajufo, Alexander Scheer, Dominic Purcell, Kais Setti, Graham McTavish, Alexander Scheer
Music by: Dascha Dauenhauer || Cinematography: Yoshi Heimrath || Edited by: Knut Hake || Country: Germany, United Kingdom || Language: German, English
Running Time: 121 minutes
It’s been said numerous times by both me and others how much the modern cinematic landscape, film distribution and exhibition in particular, has changed with the rise and potential future dominance of popular streaming media platforms. Most striking to me are the gaps left in the theatrical filmmaking market that have been filled by Netflix and others, producing the sorts of mid-budgeted genre films (e.g. action, science-fiction, comedy, etc.) that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. (That’s to say nothing of the nonstop production of quality limited and long-running series on those streaming services, as well.) Theatres nowadays primarily show (A) massive, namebrand $150 million+ blockbusters, (B) the occasional chump-budget horror movie, or (C) Oscar-bait dramas during awards season, and little else. This trend is so significant that I’ll continue emphasizing its importance until the average citizen (re: non-cinephile) raises the issue to me unprompted.
Enter Blood Red Sky, also known in some markets as Transatlantic 473, a German-English genre hybrid that mixes vampire horror and gore (e.g. Blade II , Stakeland , The Strain [2014-2017]) with action set-pieces in an isolated location (an international commercial airline flight; see also Die Hard , Air Force One ) for an effective thriller cocktail of tension, violence, and inventive location-photography. It’s one of the better high-concept Netflix Original films released in the last couple years, comparable in quality to the likes of The Platform (2019), In the Tall Grass (2019), Extraction (2020), The Call (2020), Bulbbul (2020), Oxygen (2021), etc. (see how much variety is online, not in theatres?). Its premise is as delicious as any streaming exclusive of late: A vampiric mother (Peri Baumeister) travels with her young son (Carl Anton Koch) from Germany to the United States in the hopes of undoing her infectious nocturnal condition, but their flight is hijacked by terrorists. Much bloodshed ensues.
Directed with aplomb by German filmmaker Peter Thorwarth, Blood Red Sky (henceforth, BRS) is built atop a solid f—ing script by Thorwarth and Stefan Holtz; the story begins in medias res, showing how our flight of interest emergency lands at a Royal Airforce Base in Scotland, and then transitions to Baumeister and Koch’s matriculation through airport security several hours prior to their takeoff in Germany. The horror elements of Baumeister’s protagonist are introduced gradually, as is the hijacking’s setup, which combine near the start of the second act to produce a variety of creative action sequences and creepy encounters. How the narrative explains both the hijackers’ plan and justifies the presence of various weapons is commendable, lending realism to an otherwise fantastical, almost grindhouse plot. The seriousness with which BRS‘ screenwriters take their subject-matter extends to their characterizations, as Baumeister, Koch, and supporting castmembers Kais Setti, Alexander Scheer, Dominic Purcell, and Graham McTavish all feel like rational, real people rather than stock archetypes. Even flashbacks integrate themselves well within the greater present day narrative, explaining how Baumeister contracted her rabid vampirism, encouraging audience sympathy for her and her child, and modulating narrative pace. These flashbacks also provide most of the ominous horror overtones of the story, as much of what occurs on the hijacked airplane is action-based.
Thorwarth’s dept command of his film’s dramatic and genre elements help weave BRS‘ diverse tonal range together into a near seamless whole. The movie’s harsh, low-key lighting emphasizes deep shadows and jet-black blood in both nighttime and daytime scenes, present day and flashback storylines, a style that coalesces well with the prominent vampire imagery. As far as action-direction is concerned, BRS‘ fight sequences are built around brief yet gory close-quarters violence and the occasional shootout, more reminiscent of Air Force One with a sci-fi horror twist than, say, The Raid (2011). The amount of bloody action here and its emotional effectiveness should not be overlooked, but at the same time, BRS makes you feel more afraid of its carnage than excited by it.
There’s so much to compliment about BRS — its structure, its pacing, its striking visuals — that its “weaknesses” have more to do with viewers’ tolerance of extreme violence and dour, depressing stories than the movie’s actual shortcomings. By the end, BRS is the genre equivalent of a morose “feel-bad” drama, the kind that are spotlighted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences every spring. No one sits down to “enjoy” a film like BRS so much as experience a thrill ride, to borrow a film critic’s cliché; the movie’s ultimate conclusion, though action-packed and thematically sensible, is a real downer that’ll leave most audiences feeling like shit.
At the end of the day, however, co-writer and director Peter Thorwarth should be commended for his mature vision of this otherwise bonkers premise of vampires vs. terrorists on a plane. He takes his characters and their genre-based conflicts seriously, but that mature vision doesn’t come at the expense of the film’s considerable entertainment value. Gore, fangs, and gruesome deaths abound in Blood Red Sky, so anyone who describes it as “slow” or a movie “that takes its sweet time” needs to ease off their cocaine. This film’s success is yet another bullet point among the many, many reasons why I, an avowed cinephile since a young age, have long since transitioned from patronizing public cinemas to watching new releases on streaming platforms almost exclusively. As I’ve said before, cineplexes and the film industry have only themselves to blame for their current status, and not supporting movies with vampires devouring airline hijackers is part of the reason for their decline.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Blood Red Sky feasts thanks to a reliable, well paced screenplay that juggles its horror, action, thriller, and dramatic attributes as well as any Quentin Tarantino picture and far better than, say, most Indian blockbusters. The movie’s characters are treated with respect, while its high-concept premise maintains tension through its explosive finale.
— However… as entertaining as Blood Red Sky is, its characters experience as much misery as an awards-bait film set during the Holocaust, requiring considerable stamina on the part of most viewers. Levity is in short supply.
? Peri Baumeister looks so much like Noomi Rapace I had to double-check this film’s credits.