Adapted by Sluizer from a screenplay written by Jim Barton, the film offers up an offbeat twist on a well-tread story — something akin to Knife in the Water meets The Hills Have Eyes, with the latter’s flesh-eating mutants replaced by a mournful loner who’s part-Native American (the “dark blood” of the title) and altogether horny and weird.
But the “Boy” (Phoenix), as he’s known as, only comes into the picture once married movie stars Harry (Jonathan Pryce) and Buffy (Davis) make their way as sightseers across the Arizona desert in their incongruously large Bentley, only to have it break down in the middle of a deserted nuclear testing ground. When Buffy sees a light in the distance, she treks over to an isolated cabin and, after much huffing and puffing, arrives on Boy’s doorstep and collapses into his open arms.
Such a moment normally would have been followed by what Sluizer describes as a “flesh opening scene” played up for its eroticism, in which Boy would have removed glass splinters from Buffy’s foot. Alas, this and other sequences — essential to such a sexually infused drama — are left to the viewer’s imagination, though the heat between the two characters is palpable from the get-go and only deepens when Harry comes back into the picture and quickly catches wind of their carnal tension.
Even though Boy sends the Bentley off to a local mechanic, he seems to be doing everything to keep the couple stranded in his desert hideout, and he offers plenty of early hints that he might be slightly, if definitely, crazed. We eventually learn that his wife died of cancer and his Hopi grandfather of melancholia, which helps to explain his offbeat gloominess, not to mention an underground atomic bunker he’s decorated with hundreds of Native idols, dusty psychology books and candlelit altars.
But it’s Phoenix’s performance that makes Boy such an intriguingly elusive character, and, not unlike his brother Joaquin’s recent turn in The Master, you never really know what he’s going to do next. This is most evident when Boy takes Harry on a hike in the surrounding cliffs, in a lengthy sequence Phoenix infuses with a mix of strange charm and gun-swinging menace, eventually ditching Harry — only to pick him up later, as he does again later on.
The sequence also is highlighted by stunning exterior cinematography from Ed Lachman (The Virgin Suicides, I’m Not There), which doesn’t feel a day old despite the two decades that have passed since the film was shot. Coupled with that are the convincingly creepy decors, especially Boy’s remote cottage – a hodgepodge of broken wood and atomic spare parts designed by the team of Jan Roefls and the late Ben van Os, both of whom worked extensively with Peter Greenaway, among other auteurs.
Indeed, Dark Blood is one of those slightly loopy and rare items that lies somewhere between Hollywood and the art house, combining the former’s genre know-how and talent (Pryce and Davis also are on point here) with the latter’s eccentricities and penchant for unhappy endings. This is no real surprise coming from Sluizer, whose 1988 Franco-Dutch existential thriller The Vanishing (which he remade, in a lesser studio version, in 1993), tackled similar themes, especially a man’s desire to possess a woman at all costs and the madness that results.
But there’s also something innately tender about what lurks beneath Boy’s lust for Buffy — a tenderness no doubt brought out by Phoenix’s innocent gaze and the foreknowledge that this would be his last role. “I guess you learn that the deepest wounds are self-inflicted,” Harry tells Boy early on, and as this three-way thriller comes to its sad, violent and rather surprising conclusion, his words unfortunately ring true on all levels.
980MB | 1h 23m | 720×460 | mkv