Saturday, July 20, 2013

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Blood Monkey (2007)

A bunch of anthropology students (actor names withheld to protect the innocent, or because their characters are hardly interesting enough to deserve the word count) come to the dangerous jungles of Thailand (as embodied by actual Thailand and a soundstage who knows where) to…well, do student-y stuff for a Professor Hamilton (F. Murray "I won an Oscar. Once." Abraham).

Little do our little stereotypes expect Hamilton's sputtering mad welcome speech about the uncharted valley he found, where they will do sensational science together. Let's just not think about the little details, like the fact that the only other expedition member is a rather brutal Thai woman named Chenne (Prapimporn Karnchanda), even though there is clearly equipment around belonging to more people than just the two of them.

Half of the truth will come out a little later, once Hamilton has led the group into the area he's so interested in. He's after a highly intelligent, until now undiscovered species of hominid nobody in the movie ever calls a Blood Monkey. The other half of the truth is that Hamilton wants his student assistants not as help but as live bait to have a better chance at bagging himself one of said monkeys. There's nothing about this particular plan that could go wrong.

Sources are divided if Blood Monkey can actually be called a Sci-Fi Channel movie, and didn't have its actual premiere on DVD, but seeing as RHI's Maneater series which it starts was usually made to be shown on the Channel first, I'll at least treat it as an honourable SyFy movie.

The film was directed by veteran (and still working) Robert Young, whose best film is probably Hammer's wonderful Vampire Circus. Not surprisingly, Blood Monkey isn't on that level at all. Young does manage a few atmospheric shots, particularly whenever he works with consciously artificial looking lighting, but he's let down by a script that is always plodding and obvious, and which lacks even the kind of routine monster movie finesse I expect from my SyFy productions by now.

I suspect Young's just a bit too subtle a director for the style. Case in point is the film's insistence on barely showing its monsters. Sure, that's a good way to go about hiding that your core attraction isn't up to snuff when you have a screenplay that contains exciting things like characters, theme, or an actual plot, but when you're Blood Monkey, all your script has to offer are a handful of cute lines and a scene of very strong monster urine hitting a bunch of tents, so it would probably be better for the film to shove some cheap digital monster down the audience's throats. Alright, the film's final ten minutes are actually pretty entertaining, but at that point, I wasn't really too interested in what was happening on screen anymore.

At least F. Murray Abraham seems to have his fun, emphasizing curious words in his monologues, rolling his eyes and gazing madly in the direction of the camera like a champ. It's the sort of performance that makes a movie well worth watching if you have the time and inclination and aren't hit by existential doubts when watching boring and pointless movies.

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