31 Days of Halloween, Arctic setting, Benjamin Hessler, Blood Glacier, Brigette Kren, cinema, Edita Malovcic, Felix Romer, film reviews, films, foreign films, Gerhard Liebmann, German cinema, global warming, Hille Beseler, horror, horror movies, isolation, Marvin Kren, melting glaciers, Michael Fuith, monster movies, Moritz Schultheiss, Movies, mutants, mutations, Peter Knaack, Rammbock, scientists
Back in 2010, German director Marvin Kren ended up on my radar due to his debut feature, the modest but highly effective zombie film Rammbock. In a field of lackluster, identical products, Rammbock stood out by means of its intelligent script, focus on human interactions versus zombie gore (although there was plenty of that) and some nicely emotional bits that helped to frame the zombie apocalypse in slightly more personal terms. I was instantly hooked and eagerly looked forward to his next production, particularly when I heard that Kren would be tackling my beloved “frozen horror” subgenre. Would this outstanding new filmmaker continue the trend he started with Rammbock and come up with a film that proudly stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Carpenter’s iconic The Thing (1982) or would he fall prey to the dreaded sophomore slump? Lucky for me, it appears that Kren is much more than a one-trick pony: Blood Glacier might not be as good as The Thing but it’s a pretty damn impressive film, nonetheless.
Similar to Fessenden’s The Last Winter (2006), Kren’s Blood Glacier approaches its subject matter from an environmental angle: in this case, the melting of the glacial ice appears to have released a long dormant organism back into our world. In this case, the organism takes the form of blood-red liquid and appears to be seeping from the very ice itself, handily providing us with our title. This organism has the unique ability to genetically combine animals, using stomach contents as a catalyst: if a fox eats a beetle and then comes into contact with the liquid, the resulting mutation will be some sort of beetle-fox hybrid. Inevitably, this leads to such creative creations as an insect-ram hybrid (truly horrifying), bird-insect combinations and some pretty nasty fox abominations (the fox-pill bug creature is particularly nightmarish). Humans are also animals, of course, so don’t think the bipeds are getting off any easier.
As with The Thing, Blood Glacier focuses on a small team of scientists (Felix Romer, Hille Beseler and Peter Knaack) and one technician, Janek (Gerhard Liebmann), who are stationed at the isolated research base, this time somewhere in the Austrian Alps. To make matters worse, a group of dignitaries, including Minister Bodicek (Brigette Kren) and Janek’s ex-girlfriend, Tanja (Edita Malovcic), are scheduled to visit the site and they’re about to walk right into a mutated animal feeding frenzy. When the scientists seem more interested in protecting their potential scientific goldmine than trying to save their unsuspecting visitors, Janek must spring into action and become the hero that everyone needs. As he’ll find out, however, Mother Nature isn’t something to trifle with: Janek and his teammates might just end up paying for humanities environmental sins with their own lives.
While there’s nothing inherently derivative about Kren’s film, it’s pretty impossible to avoid at least some comparisons to The Thing, ice-bound setting notwithstanding. Both films revolve around isolated teams of scientists, both feature heroes who are decidedly rough around the edges and less than ideal leader-types and both films deal with the ramifications of rapid-fire mutations on both humans and animals. Hell, both films even prominently feature a dog, although Blood Glacier’s Tinnie is much more sympathetic than the mutating monster from Carpenter’s film. There’s also a shared sense of cynicism between the films: both end with the notion that the ultimate resolution of the events will be up to the capricious whims of nature…mankind can only affect so much, after all, when we’re merely ants crashing the picnic.
Despite these pretty basic similarities, however, Blood Glacier is definitely its own beast. For one thing, Kren has his tongue a little further in cheek than Carpenter did: while Blood Glacier is the furthest thing from a horror-comedy, it tends to display a rather sardonic worldview, a POV that was also a big part of Rammbock. There’s also the inclusion of the characters of Tanja and Minister Bodicek, which injects a much-needed female perspective into the film. While Tanja also fulfills the role of love interest, Bodicek is just allowed to be a complete and total badass: she gets some of the film’s best lines, performs impromptu surgery (take that, American politicians!), keeps her head at all times and actually seems to give a shit about the common folks rather than seeking to protect only her own, privileged skin. Minister Bodicek is a great character and Brigette Kren brings her to glorious life. Gerhard Liebmann, for his part, is a more than capable hero, even if he’s no patch whatsoever on Russell’s classic MacReady. Liebmann ends up displaying quite a dramatic range in the film, particularly during the rather sad Tinnie storyline, and amounts to a pretty good protagonist.
Using the same cinematographer that he employed for Rammbock, Moritz Schultheiss, Kren comes up a similarly rich look for Blood Glacier. As with any film like this, the creature and special effects are a pretty pivotal part of the overall experience and, for the most part, Blood Glacier doesn’t disappoint. The creature designs are suitably icky and often quite ingenious (the insectile rams are just short of amazing), although they don’t always hold up in close-up: what looks more homogenous in a medium shot tends to look rather cluttered and ill-defined once we can see the particulars. Ultimately, however, this doesn’t really become a deal-breaker: the effects in The Thing set a new industry standard, so it makes sense that Blood Glacier would have a problem topping them. The Thing also dealt almost exclusively with practical effects, whereas Blood Glacier’s creatures are mostly CGI, which tends to produce a very different visual effect. Nonetheless, Blood Glacier’s SFX are miles beyond similar films and the film, in general, looks great.
As someone who absolutely idolizes The Thing, I was expecting Blood Glacier to be a competent, if less than revelatory, successor to Carpenter’s classic. While there were a lot of parallels to the ’80s landmark, however, Blood Glacier proved to be a thoroughly captivating film in its own right and a great entry in the “frozen terror” subgenre. At this point, Kren is two-for-two, so he’s officially made his way onto my “Must See” list for future productions: here’s to hoping that the burgeoning horror auteur keeps finding new and interesting ways to mess with old horror conventions. Watch this on a double-bill with The Thing, pour yourself a hot toddy and while away the frigid winter hours. And remember: stay away from the red snow.