Into the Dark: Blood Moon reworks an age-old horror setup for a refreshingly grounded and restrained story of motherhood.
This review of Into the Dark: Blood Moon contains spoilers.
Emma Tammi, who directed last May’s Into the Dark entry Delivered and livens up this second slate just in time for it to end with Blood Moon, also made 2018’s quiet, moody horror-drama The Wind. Funnily enough, that was the film I was thinking of before I even recognized the connection, what with the intense focus on a lonely woman’s interiority and worsening circumstances in a setting that feels deeply, increasingly isolating and inhospitable. You can see the directorial fingerprints all over this grounded, refreshingly restrained depiction of a mother-son bond complicated by the fact that one of them is a werewolf. It’s the best installment of Into the Dark in ages, as flawed as it is, but it’s obviously too little too late as a finale.
The werewolf thing isn’t a spoiler, honestly. From the moment we meet Esme (Megalyn Echikunwoke) clutching a shotgun in a bloodstained room, we know something is up, and when we next see her and her ten-year-old son, Luna (Yonas Kibreab), driving into an isolated rural town and being very insistent about renting a house with a sturdy basement, it’s obvious that the nipper has some issues. Before long, Esme is finessing materials for a “chicken coop”, circling dates on the calendar, and installing a cage in that spacious basement.
That it’s obvious where Into the Dark: Blood Moon is going seems at first like a problem, but it becomes apparent after a while that it isn’t your typical changeling child story. There’s a lot of character in how Esme goes about what is obviously a familiar routine, defending herself against the advances of a local sheriff while working in a bar, and manipulating the kindly hardware store owner, Miguel (Marco Rodriguez), into letting her pay for building supplies in installments. Both she and Luna are evidently used to this, even if they’re also both sick of it. The lures of normality and consistency are ever-present – a potential relationship for Esme with her well-meaning employer Sam (Joshua Dov), and the chance to simply be a typical child for Luna. Blood Moon swiftly becomes about the sacrifices both are forced to make.
It’s hard to say how much of the film’s restrained approach is by design and how much is a consequence of strict Covid-19 protocols that prohibit too many characters sharing a scene, but it works either way. All the moments of violence, or any that would require the aid of a hefty effects budget, occur off-screen. Esme’s interactions with residents of the tumbleweed town feel lonely and isolating, which helps to offset the fact that the understanding store owner, the well-intentioned suitor, and the obviously bigoted small-town sheriff (Gareth Williams) are broad archetypes. Megalyn Echikunwoke is tremendous throughout, though, imbuing Esme with a fierce maternal instinct and just the right about of fatigue and vulnerability in other character-driven scenes.
I couldn’t quite tell you how Into the Dark: Blood Moon fits into the Hulu anthology’s seasonal gimmick. Pretty quickly I stopped thinking about it, drawn into the dilemma and curious, if a bit fearful, of where it all might end up. Most installments of Into the Dark haven’t been scary because they haven’t been very good, but Blood Moon uses its lack of frights to tell a richer story about a mother’s love. I’ll take that.