This low budget, independently produced slasher from Sweden provides yet another showcase for the magic of current digital video technology. The whole thing was shot using the ‘movie mode’ function on a Canon 7D digital SLR for a measly $5,000, yet, after a large dab of cure-all post-production digital grading has been applied, it looks virtually indistinguishable from film. “Blood Runs Cold”, the debut feature from director Sonny Laguna, is just the latest indie horror hit to benefit from the amazingly professional results which are now possible with this affordable technology, coming in the wake of the Italian zombie flick “Eaters: Rise of the Dead” and “The Silent House” from Uruguay. With a bit of technical competence and some imagination, the possibilities now appear limitless for the independently minded auteurs out there to realise their visions without compromise, in a form that looks professional and watchable.
In this case the whole movie was shot in 35 days by a crew of only three people. The main positive point to be emphasised about this particular effort is the way in which it quickly allows the setting to become the real star of the film. Although set in the USA, with a cast of Swedish actors who speak in English throughout while affecting American accents with varying degrees of success, the film was actually shot during a particularly freezing-looking winter just outside Stockholm. The snowy countryside setting and the isolated, creepy-looking dwelling in which the action takes place (and which also doubled as the offices and living space of the cast and skeleton crew during the shoot) imbues the on-screen results with a believable atmosphere and an unsettling immediacy.
Winona (newcomer Hanna Oldenburg) is a singer-songwriter who, after a busy year in the music industry, is heading back to her hometown to get her head together and hopefully work on some new material. With this in mind her manager has rented a quiet, out-of-the-way house on the outskirts of town for her -- but first she has got to find it in the middle of a freezing snowstorm and in the chill dark of the night. Eventually the headlights of her car pick out a rather gone-to-seed dwelling through the flurrying flakes, with flapping shutters and a creepy attic room as its top floor. Inside she finds the place dark and dingy, with peeling paint, sparse and careworn furnishings and rats scurrying across the chipped skirting. Although clearly not the pleasant abode she was promised, Winona has no choice but to make the best of things and after the requisite false scares (an ominous bump upstairs sounds like footsteps, but turns out to be an unfastened window frame flapping in the wind) she heads out to a local bar where she stumbles on an ex-flame, Richard (Patrick Sax), who’s out drinking with a young couple he knows, the boorish Carl (Andreas Rylander, who looks like the young Christian Slater) and his long-suffering girlfriend Liz (Elin Hugoson). There’s clearly still a connection between the two ex-lovers and all four soon end up back at Winona’s creepy old house for an evening tipple and the chance to catch up on old times. As the storm outside shows no sign of abating, Winona asks the trio if they would like to stay overnight and leave the next morning instead. While Carl and Liz take the opportunity to get it on in the spare room, Winona and Richard also rekindle their relationship. But such harmony is to be short-lived: an axe-wielding, cannibalistic killer is also lurking inside the house, and, come morning, sets about making short work of Winona’s unlucky houseguests …!
That last sentence might sound like it comes a bit suddenly out of left-field, but it just about sums up this attractive-looking but rather functionally plotted slasher film. For half of its 74 minute running time the scene setting amid the snow-blasted Swedish landscape at twilight is effectively delivered. The house is -- and looks like -- a real dilapidated dwelling rather than a mocked-up stage set, lending a Blair Witch-like immediacy to the nicely photographed mise-en-scène. We spend a large amount of time getting to know the four protagonists; true, none of them are particularly interesting -- but at least they’re given backstories of sorts, rather than being the faceless victims usually trotted out for many a nondescript slice-&-dicer. The heroine (who, let’s face it, we’re well aware is destined for ‘final girl’ status) is cute and fairly likable and the whole failed relationship subplot (she left the Rich to pursue the big time in the music industry but still holds a flame for him; he resents being stuck in a dead end town) feels genuine enough. But then again, that’s not why we’re really here: in the second half of the film things take a fairly uninspired turn, with a series of stalk and slash set-pieces that see the guests disposed of pretty quickly in gory detail, leaving all that backstory-building behind as just a wet puddle of eviscerated dead flesh on the ground, and Winona to emerge the next morning to an empty house and a hallway full of the smeared blood of her dead friends.
The killings themselves are actually pretty nicely done and make use of the occasional bit of extra digital jiggery-pokery in order to stage an effective decapitation with a shovel that sends a head skittering across the ice like a hockey puck. The killer is also highly derivative, but nevertheless quite effective. With a head swathed in dirty bandages and eyes concealed behind sightless snow goggles (he basically looks like one of the Sand People from “Star Wars”) this unnamed maniac shrieks unnervingly when hacking his victims with an axe and at least has a straightforward motive in that he likes to noisily devour their remains afterwards, losing all interest in anything else while he’s hungrily chowing down on the bloodied wet giblets of good-looking twenty-something Swedes. The weirdness of the antagonist contrasts spookily against the relative normalcy of the backdrop and the fairly standard concerns of characters suddenly catapulted into this surreally violent world of blood and ice. The final girl cat-and-mouse business is all fairly standard stuff for the genre, and takes its cue from “Wolf Creek” by putting the pretty heroine through the mill in terms of the sheer physical unpleasantness she has to undergo in order to prevail. We’re also given a nice view of the killer’s un-pretty domestic arrangements when Winona discovers a crawlspace in the cellar that leads into a cave mine where the killer lives in the dark in what looks like a furnished abattoir, with blood-smeared second-hand sofa and bed right next to a butchers’ table and chains for suspending victims from their feet while they await their turn to be made into his supper.
What we are not given is any kind of explanation as to whom or, more likely, what, this macabre killer really is. He certainly isn’t human, can shrug off a pick-axe lodged between the shoulder blades (and does so twice) and doesn’t react to a bullet to the head even when it’s delivered at point-blank range. Ignoring answering these kinds of questions can be seen as an attempt to keep things unpredictable and fresh, or it can be thought of as just lazy, depending on your take on the matter. If it’s the latter, then it is a pity that the film deals with its killer in such a formulaic fashion. The other unfortunate negative point that should be flagged up is the weakness of the screenplay and the dialogue, co-written by Laguna and producers David Liljeblad and Tommy Wiklund. The latter wouldn’t matter quite so much if certain characters didn’t repeatedly act in ways that simply make no sense. When Winona first brings her three companions back to the old house, Richard sees a light in the attic room and a silhouetted figure peering out of the window. Does he bother telling anyone or commenting on it in any way, seeing as Winona has previously told them she’s staying at the house alone? Does he heck! Furthermore, if you woke up one morning and found that all of your guests had disappeared during the night and that the entire hallway was covered in trails of blood, as though someone had been murdered and the bodies dragged outside through the snow, what would you do? I’m pretty sure the answer isn’t ‘completely ignore the tiresome question of the whereabouts of your missing friends, get a bucket of water and a scrubbing brush and start cleaning the place up, frowning as though someone has just trodden some mud from the garden into your best carpet!'
There are some lovely touches throughout the picture though, and a Fulciesque aptitude for the lingeringly grotesque is never far from the surface of events. The director’s composition of shots makes excellent use of the 2.35:1 matting throughout; and an eerie warbling aria emanating from a partially tuned, old-fashioned transistor radio in the killer’s lair emphasises his strange other-worldliness very effectively in the latter half of the flick. Laguna even rather proficiently restages the famous and terrifying trapped-in-the-bathroom-while-a-madman-with-an-axe-is-hacking-at-the-door scene from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” at one point during the proceedings. The film fares extremely well on DVD, the transfer is pretty sharp and the digital video origins of the work soon forgotten. An effective 5.1 surround sound mix amplifies the atmosphere successfully. The UK DVD features an eight minute behind-the-scenes feature following the month-long film shoot in icy winter conditions, most of it is taken up with examining the professional stunt work of co-ordinator and stuntman Fredrik Blom.