Director: Madellaine Paxson
Cast: Milo Cawthorne, Olivia Tennet, Ari Boyland, Adelaide Kane, Cohen Holloway
Watch Blood Punch online in the UK: Shudder UK
Every other weekend, our resident horror obsessive Anton Bitel delves into Shudder’s selection of horrors to handpick a Friday night fright.
The trapped-in-a-time-loop narrative of Harold Ramis’ existential comedy Groundhog Day (1993) easily and obviously lends itself, in all its infernal dynamics, to more horror-oriented handling. Recently, Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day, its sequel Happy Death Day 2U and the Netflix series Russian Doll have popularised this paradoxical kind of plotting for horror, but they are themselves repeating and recycling the circular stories of previous genre films such as Dario Piana’s The Deaths of Ian Stone (2007), Chris Smith’s Triangle (2009), Vincenzo Natali’s Haunter (2013), Park Hong-min’s Alone (Hon-ja, 2015) and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Resolution (2012) and The Endless (2017). Spinning a similar scenario for darkly comic effect, Blood Punch – the directorial debut of veteran television writer Madellaine Paxson (here working closely with writer Eddie Guzelian) – uses its iterative structure to capture the Sisyphean cycles of abuse, addiction and violence.
It begins with Milton (Milo Cawthorne, Deathgasm) waking up in a cabin one Tuesday morning with a heavy, drug-induced hangover. Racing to the bathroom to throw up, he finds in the bath a video monitor with an affixed note instructing him to “Play me now”. On it, there is monochrome footage of himself, first cutting off his own fingers to establish his own bona fides, and then telling the shocked (and full-fingered) Milton the whole condensed narrative of how he is about to – or, indeed, already has – become stuck in that same Tuesday for years, and how to break free from the loop.
On the previous Monday, chemical engineering student Milton is stuck in another place – a rehab centre for meth manufacturers and addicts – when femme fatale Skyler (Olivia Tennet) seduces him and, together with her psychopathic boyfriend Russell (Ari Boyland), busts Milton out. The couple drives Milton to a remote cabin where they want him to cook up “85 pounds of high-grade crystal meth” the next day, so that they can sell it on to sleazily duplicitous dealer Archer (Cohen Holloway) – with whom they share a long history, criminal and otherwise. First, though, an evening of meth and peyote indulgence…
The cabin comes with its own long history – of violence. For it is an off-season hunting lodge built on the cursed land of an ancient Indian battleground, and haunted by a series of bizarre 20th-century killings – and its walls are festooned with blades, bear traps and weapons just waiting to be used again (and again and again). In this arena, not only is there a heightened potential for double- and triple-crosses between this dysfunctional trio, but every minute permutation of these will also play out over a perennial succession of Tuesdays, each beginning with Milton waking up hungover in the cabin. The fact that Blood Punch is (mostly) a three-hander evokes the set-up of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit (Huis Clos, 1944), where famously “hell is other people”. These characters are locked together in a psychotic love triangle-cum-Mexican standoff where alliances shift and everyone, ultimately, is looking out for number one – and if there is to be no exit, there would also appear to be no mutually satisfactory accommodation to be reached, ensuring that this looping Tuesday truly is a hell of spite, betrayal and endless bloody murder. All that remains from each reset is the corpses of the dead (piling up outside), and the memories of the survivors – and, eventually, of course, that found video footage.
“There must be 10,000 different ways to kill somebody in this place,” states Skyler (whose very name conjures Anna Gunn’s character from TV’s greatest meth-mess series, Breaking Bad). “Let’s just try every single motherfucking one of them and see what happens.” Paxson obliges with a hilarious montage of grotesque – and grotesquely varied – murders, all adding up to nothing in a world that keeps rewinding back to the beginning of a perpetual day where history is always repeating itself. Given that all three characters are meth users, in a rather obvious way, the film’s narrative cycle serves as a metaphor for the recurring nightmare of drug dependency, where appetite, paranoia and desperation reign, and one day bleeds into another. On the other hand, it is just as obviously an allegory of the never-ending spiral down which humanity is taken by violence and vendetta. Yet, as a film ruled by threes, there is a third reading of events available here. Caught between good guy Milton and bad boy Russell, Skyler is both calculating aggressor and sympathetic victim, her sociopathic survival instincts well honed from a lifetime of mistreatment at the hands of Russell and his associates (who have been passing her between them since she was 12). As she takes one day at a time, what she is trying to escape, ultimately, is the cycle of abuse – but as we know, that is never as easy as it sounds. Which is to say that there is, hanging from this film’s gallow’s humour, plenty of serious subtext.
Blood Punch is available to stream online on Shudder UK, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, or £49.99 yearly membership.