Low-budget horror/drama about the impact of a new church on a small town. Plenty to think about, but not quite enough drama and only just enough horror.
Nothing But The Blood is a drama (with some strong notes of horror) about a new house church planted in a small Texas town, arriving with the reputation of extreme views and behaviors of other branches. The story focuses on a young woman who is given sufficient cause to react with all her might.
Promoted as a “dark indie thriller” while IMDb declares it to be “Drama, Horror, Thriller”, I didn’t know what to expect as Nothing But The Blood started. The film set the scene with a very strong prologue in black and white showing Emeth’s founder preaching the word, along with some dark despairing scenes on a beach. Intrigued to see how these would fit together, the story drew me in: I’d followed some of the reports of Westboro Baptist Church’s hateful protests a few years ago, and it felt like the (presumably fictitious) Emeth was essentially Westboro in everything but name; an exaggerated version, perhaps, or an extrapolation. I’m not sure if this makes Nothing But The Blood a satire, a warning, or simply a story about religion taken to extremes; but it certainly paints a vivid picture.
The characters and the small-town setting form the strength of this film. The lead is Jessica (Rachel Hudson), a reporter who’s heard tales about Emeth worshipers stoning people in other towns and smells a story. We don’t see her digging into the story for long, though: Nothing But The Blood takes us instead into a relationship she forms with Thomas (Jordan O’Neal). He is the Megan Phelps of this plot: he has spent his life with the Emeth church but is increasingly uncomfortable with some of their controlling practices. The other key (but secondary) characters are “Father” (Les Best), the leader of the incoming church, and Jessica’s best friend Katie (Vivian Glazier). As an actor, and an imposing presence, Best was by far the strongest: he reminded me of Billy Bob Thornton at times, though with much scowl than smile.
Daniel Tucker wrote and directed Nothing But The Blood, and directing clearly showed as his strength here over the writing. The characters gelled well, the contrast between those inside the church, outside it, and torn between created some visible tension, and a couple of distinctly cold moments in the drama stood out and gave me a real jolt each time. There were some major issues with the writing, though: the story was stretched over several years, while only lasting 89 minutes on screen, and so the script did not have the chance to examine anything beyond bullet points; yet at the same time, because of that timescale, the plot was strangely slow. Sure, there was a gradual build-up of drama towards a horrific ending, but that build-up took too long to start. (Oh yes, I may have wondered for the first hour or so if there was any horror in this film, but there was, there really was!)
The other major issue with the writing was dialogue. Perhaps if a two-year story was spread over the film’s duration, rather than a five- or six-year story, everyone would have had the chance to say a bit more; but as it was, the dialogue was just too darn basic. Any talent amongst the actors might have had a chance to make itself known with better writing, too; it’s almost impossible to judge with a script of this quality. Sure this is a “microbudget” film, but writing doesn’t have to be dependent on budget, so it’s one area where I have high expectations (The Battery set such a high standard for “low budget”). Tucker very clearly had a strong idea, with some thought-provoking elements (how viable it is to resist extreme teachings, the price of rebellion, etc.) and I would like to see what happens when he can focus on the direction, in partnership with a separate writer.
The score to Nothing But The Blood did the film no favors either… but I don’t want to dwell on any more negative points. What Tucker clearly does have behind him is a team, both working with him and supporting him. With a strong team, a filmmaker can have a strong future, and the people surrounding this film have clearly shown dedication which deserves to pay off.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.