[Review] Hulu’s Horror Anthology BOOKS OF BLOOD is A One-Stop Shop To Kick Your Halloween Vibes Into High Gear

October is, historically, a month full of an overwhelming amount of horror content to watch and enjoy as the Halloween season embraces us in full. It can be hard to budget your time effectively, especially this year with so much available at our fingertips on VOD, and it can be easy for projects to slip through the cracks. Allow me for a moment to bring your attention to the newest movie from the mind of Clive Barker (Hellraiser), Books of Blood. As posted on the film’s Hulu page, Books of Blood is described as “A journey into uncharted territory through three tales tangled in space and time.” Like that blurb would suggest, Books of Blood is an anthology film comprising one overarching narrative and including three separate stories woven together within that structure. Full of equal parts existential, psychological, and stomach-churning body horror, this film is your one-stop shop to kick your Halloween vibes into high gear.

Directed by Brannon Braga (Salem) as his first feature-length film and written in part by Braga along with Adam Simon (Brain Dead), and Clive Barker himself, Books of Blood utilizes the framing device from Barker’s source material and includes completely new stories written for the film. The cast includes Britt Robertson (Scream 4), Anna Friel (Limitless), Rafi Gavron (Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist), and Yul Vazquez (The Outsider), and premiers on Hulu, Wednesday, October 7th.

 

“equal parts existential, psychological, and stomach-churning body horror, this film is your one-stop shop to kick your Halloween vibes into high gear.”

 

Our first, and most dominant, installment tells the story of a young woman, Jenna (Britt Robertson), stuck at home with her parents as she takes time off from college after a traumatizing experience at school. Jenna suffers from misophonia, a disorder that provokes strong emotional responses to certain sounds. This is highlighted for us through some stunning and incredibly aggravating sound design during a dinner scene. The treatment Jenna receives from her seemingly cold and heartless mother leads her to run away from home in search of a safe place to stay. This twisted installment raises big questions about who you can trust and what it means to escape a bad situation when the unknown has the possibility to be so much worse.

The real strength in this installment comes from how effectively the audience is put inside Jenna’s head. Some movies can veer dangerously into the territory of “look at her, she’s so crazy,” but since we get to see her story from her point of view, we can better understand where she is coming from and empathize with her. But of course, that doesn’t mean we know all there is to know about her right away.

 

 

More of the power of this movie comes from the inherent charm of Britt Robertson as an actor, the purposeful location work, and some startlingly good looking gore. The real stand out of this piece, and the movie as a whole for me, was Freda Foh Shen’s (Ad Astra) performance as Ellie who serves as a host of this sort of Airbnb/youth hostel hybrid. She radiates incredibly enticing warmth and comfort and speaks with such importance that you have no choice but to hang on to her every word. She also has the remarkable ability to shift a scene so adeptly that you don’t even notice a shift is being made until it is too late.

While the psychological horror is downright shudder-inducing on occasion, it could have been even more effective if the story itself was tighter. The middle 30 minutes or so of this story was very strong but did suffer from dragging a bit at the beginning and closer to the end. I caught myself wondering how the other two stories would be able to be explored as in-depth as this one with the amount of time that was left in the movie. It would have been near perfect as a 50 minute episode of television, but given that it is an installment in an anthology movie, it did end up feeling overly long. But, if your interests include secret doors, spider-themed cafes, and chainsaws, Jenna’s story will be right up your alley.

 

“…sickening in the best way possible.”

 

Our second story focuses on a psychologist named Mary (Anna Friel) whose career centers on debunking supernatural phenomena, a young man named Simon (Rafi Gavron) who claims that he is a mouthpiece for the dead and has a message from Mary’s son. What follows is an intensely fraught and pretty sexy power struggle between the two as their endeavors in communication with the dead become increasingly twisted and muddled. What makes someone a believer, and who can really be the author of the truth, are just some of the questions that this installment will leave you with, and that’s not to mention the clammy and sick feeling I was personally left with after some of the gore on display here.

The way that this story begins is incredibly smart though. It kicks things off in an incredibly unsettling way that disorients the audience just enough to make it clear that we are taking on a different story with a different tone. It feels like someone grabbing your shoulders and giving you a good shake as if to say “forget all that other stuff that just happened, we’re doing something else now”. With such a strong start, I felt that moment get deflated somewhat as the next scene set us up with the structure of this segment. Suddenly, we’re in a book club and being told the events of this story through flashback or memory. It seemed almost a little too structured and not as aggressive as I would have liked in order to really hold onto after the intensity of the story we had just concluded with Jenna.

 



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Luckily, I found this deflation to be relatively brief, and when we did get right back to the action of the story, it was very effective. This section of the movie is going to be your favorite if you are in the mood from some serious body horror. I was reminded of scenes from Hellraiser (1987) and even Martyrs (2008) at one point, and it was sickening in the best way possible.

The final installment serves more as the connecting thread for the framing device of the anthology rather than its own story. I will leave my description at that because I think it’s very much worth discovering and feeling that excitement for yourself as you watch. It’s incredibly efficient with a short amount of screen time, which in and of itself is impressive, but as a result, can lead to the ending feeling rushed. The movie does leave you with a somewhat unbalanced anthology as we were so heavy on the first story that the other two almost speed by. However, the care taken with that first installment ripples throughout the rest of the film and is ultimately worth it in the end. If anything mentioned here sounds up your alley, I certainly recommend spending 105 minutes inside this atmospheric and unsettling world for some top-notch escapism.

 

“atmospheric and unsettling […] some top-notch escapism.”

 

Books of Blood is available to stream on Hulu beginning October 7th. Be sure to let us know which was your favorite segment of this extreme Halloween horror-anthology and share your full thoughts of this twisted ride with us over on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!

 

Books of Blood (2020)
TLDR
Full of equal parts existential, psychological, and stomach churning body horror, this film is your one stop shop to kick your Halloween vibes into high gear. The movie does leave you with a somewhat unbalanced feeling as we were so heavy on the first story that the other two almost speed by. However, the care taken with that first installment ripples throughout the rest of the film and is ultimately worth it in the end. I certainly recommend spending 105 minutes inside this atmospheric and unsettling world for some top-notch escapism.
Story
70
Performances
80
Effects
85
Pacing
60
73
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