Books of Blood (2020)
Written by Adam Simon & Brannon Braga
Directed by Brannon Braga
I cannot convey to you how awful this movie is. It’s not rare to find a bad adaptation of a Clive Barker work, but this is possibly new levels of disconnect from the tone of the writer’s stories. It sadly doesn’t surprise me because, for as ambitious as Hulu seems to be about creating original horror content, they have yet to deliver any that is enjoyable to watch. I was pretty let down by the adaptation of Nathan Ballingrud’s The Visible Filth as the Hulu original film Wounds. I didn’t care for that picture for the same reasons I walked away feeling lousy about Books of Blood.
This is an anthology horror film based on Clive Barker’s short story collection series of the same name. Film anthologies are remarkably hard to pull off, so the filmmakers were already handicapping themselves from the start. I think picking a short story and expanding it, like Candyman, would have been a better route, but this is the picture we have. The framing device has two criminals hunting down the Book of Blood, an artifact they believe will net them a hefty profit. They don’t know much about it but are pursuing the prize anyway.
Meanwhile, we follow Jenna (Britt Robertson), a college student sent home due to some nastiness that went down and left her mentally scarred. She has gone off her meds and begins hallucinating horrors and finds her hearing has become extremely sensitive to mouth noises. Jenna steals a stack of cash out of her wealthy parents’ safe and takes a bus out of town. One of her bad trips leaves her stranded in a small town where she stumbles across a boarding house. The husband and wife who own the place seem nice enough, but you know how this goes, there are dark secrets buried beneath the surface.
The second tale is about Mary (Anna Friel), a psychologist who loses her young son to cancer. She meets Simon, a man who claims to be a medium and can channel the dead. Mary sees him as a scam artist and allows Simon to publicly demonstrate his abilities as a means to expose him. Of course, he surprises everyone when the lights come back up, and the walls are covered in the bloody scrawlings of the dead. Mary is not only fascinated with his abilities but develops a relationship with Simon. Cut to months later, she has written a book about him, and they are seeking investments in a program to allow Simon to help those who need to communicate with the dead. However, not all is what it seems, and Mary begins to learn some disturbing things about Simon.
The final story is more a mash-up of everything from before. We follow the criminal duo for the most part and see how they intersect with the other two stories. Everyone you would expect to die does, and even the supposedly shock ending doesn’t feel all too jolting. The script has many problems, but those could have been remedied with one simple change, making the film look like an actual horror story instead of a brightly lit flat tv movie.
This was the same problem I had with the look of Wounds. Hulu doesn’t seem to have quality cinematographers on any of these horror projects because they look like crap. Books of Blood has such warm colors in so many scenes that it actually undercuts the tension moments should have. The Jenna story, in particular, was shot like a light drama instead of a horror story. When I looked at the chief production credits in the making of Books of Blood, there is a considerable horror deficit. Screenwriter Adam Simon has not written anything in the horror genre I would consider remotely enjoyable to me personally. Writer-Director Brannon Braga is very well-known as a producer on the Star Trek television series and Next Generation movies. It looks like he was a showrunner on Salem, which is as close as he’s come to horror before this.
When I think Clive Barker, I think of Hellraiser and that aesthetic. It should be grimy and feel gross. There’s a beautiful squirminess to Barker’s work, violence & sex often crossing over. Those who threaten are also seductive in a disturbing way. The body horror in Hulu’s Books of Blood is dull compared to what I have seen in other works. It’s not a production value thing either; you can establish mood through lighting and camerawork; it just takes a little more thought, and it’s clear very little went into churning out this extremely forgettable adaptation.