Lincoln, Nebraska may not be on the map for most horror fans, but Dorothy Booraem is out to change that. Her debut feature, Wake the Witch, was an interesting indie horror film memorable for a number of reasons, most prominent of which was its overabundance of ideas and the fact that it was shot in and around Lincoln. That film felt like three different movies got in a nasty pile-up with each other, and sprawled too much in its 114 minutes. For her second feature, Blood Rites, Booraem keeps the horror and the unique setting, but narrows the focus considerably. The result is a much slicker product than Wake the Witch, but in losing some of the ambition of that film, Blood Rites also trades in some of Wake the Witch‘s weirdo personality for more familiar shocks. However, that’s not necessarily a bad trade, as Blood Rites is also a more immediately (if conventionally) satisfying film than Wake the Witch.
Nikki (Karis Yanike) is waiting at a hideout for her partners to return from a big drug deal. When they arrive, it is immediately apparent that things did not go well. Darrin (Shaun Vetick) shows up in one car with the wounded Diz (Christina Marie Leonard), who took a gunshot in the crossfire. Just before they lock up the hideout, Diz’s high-strung boyfriend Axel (Mark Dews) shows up with three hostages who appear to be Amish or Mennonite: Brother Abram (Christopher Michael O’Neill), Sister Adna (Allison Scott) and Sister Anani (Jeanne Kern). The group then heads to the top floor of the building to hide out and figure out what to do next since their ringleader Jason was apparently killed in the exchange. Diz is bleeding out, Axel can’t stop pointing his gun at everybody, and those chanting hostages are looking less and less like innocent bystanders as the day drags on.
Meanwhile, three young women led by the mysterious Donna (Katrina Adams) perform a strange ritual and end up dead. Now the cops have a drug-related shootout and a ritual murder to deal with all at the same time, not the way Detectives Frey (Eric Moyer) and Green (Robert-Kingston Green) wanted to start their weekend at all. As the situation in the hideout worsens, it seems as though supernatural forces may be trying to keep the criminals in the building while the police follow the trail of blood around the city. Whether they know it or not, Nikki and her cohorts may be in danger of being captured by the cops if they can’t escape the building, or by something much worse if the cops don’t get there first.
Blood Rites marks a big jump in technical quality from Booraem’s Wake the Witch, shedding that film’s prosumer DV look and mostly utilitarian lighting for a much sharper image and some film noir-inspired lighting set-ups. The special effects are also considerably better than Wake the Witch, which used subtle makeup for its monsters. Blood Rites calls for gunshot and knife wounds, and for the most part these are effectively pulled off by FX designer Rose Staley, who also worked on Wake the Witch. The film has a suitably claustrophobic feel, and some good performances (most notably Jeanne Kern’s super creepy Sister Anani) keep things lively. The film’s structure is a little awkward– it’s easy to periodically forget there’s a parallel story going on with the Detectives, and there are hints that a larger police-oriented subplot may have been excised– but Blood Rites is still a solid little thriller, and I’m anxious to see where Booraem and her collaborators go from here.