The religious dark drama Nothing But the Blood – written and directed by Daniel Tucker—depicts a fundamentalist takeover of a small town. There are many reasons why people go to church. It could be a family tradition, or some people might find comfort and meaning in having faith after suffering a loss. And there’s many reasons why people choose to leave a church. Any reason is valid. However, what isn’t acceptable is when a congregation seeks to impose their set of beliefs on those who choose not to believe, often by using violence or intimidation.
Jessica Cutler (Rachel Hudson) is a writer for a local newspaper in a small Texas town. She is assigned cover the grand opening of a new home church called Emeth (which they claim is Greek for ‘tree’). But rather than writing up a simple puff piece, Jessica prods one of the members Michael (Nick Triola) on the controversial actions done by members of different chapters of their organization in other parts of America, such as stoning a divorced woman or burning the home of a gay couple. The editor of the newspaper does not approve of Jessica’s first draft, and sends her back to sit in on the church’s service. There she meets Thomas (Jordan O’Neal, Fabletown), the black sheep of Emeth. Thomas is the son of the church’s founding Father (Les Best, Scare Package). The church is the only thing that he has known, but Thomas does not want the life set out for him, including the woman he is betrothed to. He instead chooses to leave Emeth to start a new family with Jessica.
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“The true horror of Nothing But the Blood is in the realization that Emeth isn’t far off from certain religious groups that exist in the Southern States.”
The story skips ahead by months and then years. Jessica becomes pregnant and gives birth to a daughter. During this time, Emeth expands and more of the townspeople join the congregation, including Jessica’s abusive ex Seth (Austin Lynn Hall) and Jessica’s best friend Katie (Vivian Gazier, Age Out). Emeth is a lot like the Westboro Baptist Church, in that, above all their other convictions, they uphold the “sanctity of marriage,” condemning homosexuality, adultery and children born out of wedlock. Jessica and Thomas’ home becomes a target because they chose not to marry, with members posting signs on their front lawn calling them sinners. Jessica and Thomas make plans to leave town forever, but on their daughter’s sixth birthday, she requests to meet her grandfather. They decide to make one final visit to Emeth before leaving, but the evening turns deadly, and Jessica can no longer tolerate their presence in their community.
The Bible is more than a collection of stories; it’s also a guide to punishment. Thomas brings up the fact that Father cherry-picks certain passages to fit their dogma, while ignoring other rules that prohibit the eating of shellfish or the trimming of beards (look it up!). Jessica turns to the Bible for inspiration when it comes time for her to exact her righteous revenge on the hypocrites in shepherd’s clothing, using one particular verse that personally disturbed me when it came up in Sunday School: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” It’s only fair to use their own rules against them. The elements of horror come in the final act, with some impressive practical effects for such a micro-budget film. Blood may be considered sacred in Christianity, but it’s not used so sparingly when it’s sprayed against the walls.
Rachel Hudson is a powerful lead, defiant in the face of cruelty, yet tender and vulnerable when she needs to be. You can tell Tucker put a lot of faith into her, since she’s also the producer of Nothing But The Blood, and has acted in his previous projects like his feature debut Ashes to Ashes and his recent short No Soliciting. Les Best also gives a strong performance as a fire and brimstone preacher, who can turn from a loving servant of Christ to an agent of God’s fury on a dime. In the film’s black-and-white prologue, Best gives a chilling reading of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, though he doesn’t seem to follow his own advice when he stares directly into the camera and says “If you don’t love your enemies, how can you call yourself a Christian?”
As for other characters, they at first come off as having some depth, but later on become one-dimensional. This is a real issue with the script. it introduces plot points that seem to be significant but are quickly abandoned when the story skips ahead. For example, we never hear about Jessica’s job at the newspaper ever again. Additionally, no explanation is given as to why Emeth manages to brainwash a large part of the community. Despite the big and bloody ending, the rest of the movie moves at a slow pace and I would argue that not enough tension is built between Jessica and the church members.
“Anyone who has had some kind of upbringing in a church will find parts of this film very relatable.”
At times, the signs of a low budget project became more apparent, especially in exterior day shots that are overexposed, with outside noise-pollution creeping into the dialogue, despite their best efforts to clean it up. These are very small nitpicks, but I’m sure Daniel Tucker will forgive me, since he himself was a film critic in his past life before moving onto filmmaking.
The true horror of Nothing But the Blood is in the realization that Emeth isn’t far off from certain religious groups that exist in the Southern States. Organizations that claim to be based on a foundation of love and peace, but frequently appear in the news for their acts of hate and violence. Anyone who has had some kind of upbringing in a church will find parts of this film very relatable.
Nothing But the Blood arrives on VOD, Blu-ray, and DVD on Tuesday, August 4th. Let us know that you thought of the film over on Twitter, in the official Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!