In this era of micro-budget genre cinema, it’s surprising that more filmmakers don’t try to emulate the low-budget moodpiece approach of Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin. It’s quite possibly the most cost-effective style of genre filmmaking imaginable: all you need is a few actors, a location or two and a love for the slow and dreamy storytelling rhythms of this cinematic approach. That said, this style requires a certain obsessive minimalism that only a select group of genre filmmakers can really get into.
As Blood For Irina reveals, Chris Alexander is perfectly at home in the realm of obsessive minimalism. This visually-driven film revolves around the exploits of the title character (Shauna Henry), a vampire who lives a weary existence in a rotting urban motel. She wanders out at night for victims but has gotten to the point where she can no longer keep the blood in her system afterwards.
As Irina drifts between her nightly ritual and flashbacks to how she became a vampire, she interacts skittishly with a human subject (David Goodfellow) who watches over her and develops an obsession with Pink (Carrie Gemmell), another night world wanderer who reminds her of herself. As is usually the case in these minimalist horror items, it’s inevitable that the dream-like narrative will curdle into a nightmare before the credits roll.
The resulting moodpiece fulfills some expectations and defies others. The camerawork and editing evoke the dreamy haze in an effective way: the slow zooms and gently drifting pans of the camerawork give the onscreen action a rhythm that is best described as “weightless” while the editing has an elliptical ebb and flow. The brief snippets of narration fall flat, taking a little too arch a tone, but they are kept to barest possible minimum so they’re easy to tune out.
The combination of gritty urban locations – including a real, genuinely decrepit motel – and cheap, off-the-rack video cameras are actually used as an aesthetic here, bolstering the film’s downmarket vision of the vampire genre. Deliberately somnambulistic performances complete the mood, with Henry adding an eerieness that gives her the edge amongst the cast: her piercing stare is pretty haunting and the filmmakers capitalize on its effect.
The big surprise with Blood For Irina is that it sidesteps the overt sexuality that Eurocult fans associate with the Franco/Rollin-derived style of filmmaking. Indeed, the film doesn’t feature an ounce of nudity or explicit sex. The horndogs in the horror crowd might take issue with this but it’s a choice of design here: Blood For Irina is more interested in its tragic take on vampirism and the ugly, repetitive nature of a vampire’s life than the dualism of sexuality and vampirism you often see in Rollin and Franco films. The film’s main character is taking a slow, torturous path to an inevitable bad end – and the film does a successful job of using its aesthetic to the put the viewer in her shoes.
What you get out of Blood For Irina depends on your level of interest in that Eurocult-y style of drowsy, dream-styled horror. An objective appraisal of this work will reveal Alexander and company do an effective job of fulfilling that style, replacing some of the expected obsessions with their own. The results are a good choice for viewing at that late hour of night where your conscious mind is relaxed enough to give way to the interests of the subconscious mind – and it’s proof that genre filmmakers can do challenging work on a slim budget rather than the usual fanboy-service fare.