"It's in the Blood" starts with prodigal son October (Sean Elliot, who also cowrote the film) returning home to visit his estranged father Russell, the sheriff of their small town (Lance Henrikson). Neither distance nor time have softened the hard feelings between them, and the pair embark on a hiking trip in the Texas backwoods in a last ditch attempt to repair their relationship. When a freak accident hobbles Russell with a gruesome leg injury, it falls on his son to tend to the damage. They soon discover that something monstrous is stalking them in the woods, making it impossible to go even a few feet from their camp. October has to put his book-learning and photographic memory to use in order to put together a defensible shelter from whatever is trying to get at them.
"It's in the Blood" feels a bit like a "Lost" episode as flashbacks peel away the story of their schism. At the heart of the matter lies the tragic fate of Iris, October's adopted sister. A number of conflicting emotions bubble just underneath the young man's surface: anger at his father's failure to protect the family; rage at his own impotence in the situation and heartbreak at the loss of the love of his life. These segments, scattered throughout, are the best bits of the film. In these brief moments Downey and Elliot establish a deep bond between the young couple, while foreshadowing the danger that lurks just out of their notice. Jimmy Gonzales gives a disturbing performance as Michael, an unbalanced deputy that Russell believes harmless.
The "Lost" comparisons continue beyond the use of flashbacks and the story of the prodigal son that fails to meet measure in his father's eyes. The film makes tremendous use of the isolated setting, with the unchartered Texas backwoods presenting a danger behind every tree or under every bush. For most of the film's run-time the monster stays out of the field of view, announcing it self with crackles, shrieks and roars-much like the Smoke Monster. Towards the end, viewers get a glimpse of what, or to me more accurate who the monster is and what it represents.
The film comes up short when it tries to shoehorn the events of its characters past into their current predicament. It leaves it intentionally vague as to whether the monster was real or a shared hallucination between the father or son, or if their own repressed emotions allowed it to manifest itself in the thing they feared the most. The symbolism gets a bit heavy handed at times, and a manipulative score does it no favors. Some of the editing choices leave room for improvement, as it comes off like October and Russell are working through a drug induced stupor as opposed to reacting to a situation that leaves them in mortal peril. I can't say for sure but I may have missed a scene where the father says to son, “Hey before we go hiking, let's eat this wedding cake made entirely of high octane peyote”.
That said, there's a lot to admire here. The film looks gorgeous and takes advantage of the natural settings. Clearly the filmmakers understood they had a limited budget and squeezed everything they could out of a three location shoot (the home setting, a winding isolated road and the Texas woods themselves).
There's a beautiful, iconic shot near the end of the film - you'll know it as soon as you see it. It's a fantastic example of independent filmmakers squeezing every ounce out the hand they're dealt. When Downey and Elliot don't get caught up with landing Henrikson by offering him clunky one liners, they deliver a moving script that fleshes out the strained dynamics between father and son. Henrikson delivers a standout performance as a stoic man that projects a false sense of machismo in order to keep his emotions hidden. It's one thing to hear him describe the loneliness in his life, it's another thing all together to see it play out on screen with the pain of his failures and shortcomings etched in the deep lines of his face. Despite the occasional burst of overacting, Elliot manages to keep up, especially in the moments that call on him to stew in his own anger.
I'm a sucker for indie films whose reach exceeds their grasp. If another low budget zombie film shot in the director's backyard (or his mother's basement as is often the case) never finds its way into my mailbox again I wouldn't complain. It's In The Blood feels personal, like the people behind it were working through their own privates hells on screen. It has more passion and ambition than just about anything else you'll watch this year. As it makes its way through the festival circuit, seek it out.