Producer Val Lewton was the driving force behind a series of innovative B-horror movies for the RKO Studios beginning with “Cat People” in 1942, and ending with “Bedlam” in 1946. He developed a new style of horror film storytelling by presenting credible characters living and working in the real world amid real day to day problems. The supernatural element was dropped into this mundane reality and seemed all the more suspenseful in contrast. Now, I don’t know if writer-director Kareem A. Bland is a fan of Lewton’s films, but he’s definitely on the same wavelength.
Amid the buckets of blood and breasts on hand in most indie Horror thrillers, “Bleeding Rose” stands out as something entirely different. I was very pleasantly surprised at how easily the movie balanced its desire to express something more than mere genre while still satisfying the needs of the genre. One of the great traps filmmakers fall into is the “anti-genre” film, where they intentionally subvert all of the pleasures of the chosen genre to make some thematic or moral point, but only end up producing a “feathered fish”. That is, something neither fish nor fowl that pleases neither the indie/art film crowd nor the ordinary moviegoer looking for his genre fix. “Bleeding Rose” wants to be more than a thriller but still takes the time to respectfully construct an effective suspense thriller narrative.
“Bleeding Rose” centers on Ebony Rose (Sakeenah Nicole), an attractive young woman haunted by strange dreams and visions of her abusive ex-boyfriend, Alex (Nicholas Vitulli), while trying to start a new life back home in New York City . She is reunited with an old friend named Cedric (Archie Ekong), who is working hard to establish his new record label. Cedric and his “genius” lyricist partner and best friend Kyle (Duane Littles) are looking for a new voice and ask her to come down to their studio and audition. The three eventually form a love triangle and become suspicious of one another as Ebony’s friends and family are stalked and killed one by one by an unknown killer.
There is a great, relaxed quality in the first act of “Bleeding Rose”. It hints at the thriller beats to come, but holds its focus on Ebony’s new life and circle of friends, with the documentary like feel of the scenes at the recording studio and the almost improvisational feel of the performances coming across as natural and real. There is a confidence that Bland demonstrates throughout these scenes that draws us deeper into the story, without feeling obliged to hit us over the head with one shock after another. Instead, the film concentrates on telling its story through its characters. The suspense builds and the thriller set pieces emerge, more effective since they involve characters we’ve been given the chance to know.
One of these set pieces, involving Ebony’s friend Candice (Elizabeth Ruelas) actually seems to be a tribute to Lewton, who designed his movies around a series of what he and director Jacques Tourneur called “Buses”. This was the name given to the sudden jumps they began in “Cat People”, in which actress Jane Randolph is stalked along a New York street until suddenly she and the audience is jolted by the hiss of a bus stopping in front of her and opening its doors. Bland revisits this in his movie’s best set piece, as Candice is stalked in a subway and we are jolted by the sudden arrival of the train.
Unlike most ultra low budget films, “Bleeding Rose” is not hampered by its lack of resources, unknown actors and effects. It also has the intelligence to leave the classic model of low-budget filmmaking behind and use the freedom of new technology to expand its canvas. The old way of making a horror movie fast and cheap required bringing a cast together to a single location and murdering them one by one, in an intense shoot regulated by the high cost of camera, sound and light rental, and the complexities of moving cast and crew from place to place. However, in this digital age, a very accomplished movie can be produced with small cameras and sound equipment the filmmaker can afford to own, and with the use of available light, move from location to location with real speed, giving the movie more production value and a real sense of place.
“Bleeding Rose” has a nice feel for its New York locations and its steady handheld style is effective, using the new technology not to mimic some large Hollywood movie, but to do what they do best — eavesdrop, lurk, and watch like an electronic voyeur. The only criticism I have of the movie is one that I have to excuse. There are moments when the sound is not as clear, or the lighting is not quite perfect. Jumps in editing that seem to be the result of missing scenes near the end as the movie rushed headlong into its conclusion. These are all technical points and they are found in all indie movies and are always solved by throwing more money at the screen. So, maybe somebody should throw Kareem A. Bland some money and see what he can achieve.
Outside of those criticisms, “Bleeding Rose” is a skillfully made thriller with some interesting themes involving racial identity and abusive relationships. These are not separate things, but instead are effectively part of one complete story. Hopefully, Bland’s “Bleeding Rose” will find a niche amid the more exploitative fare on the DVD shelves. In any case, it stands as a very effective example of what can be accomplished on a low budget and meager resources.
Kareem A. Bland (director) / Kareem A. Bland (screenplay)
CAST: Sakeenah Nicole, Nicholas Vitulli, Archie Ekong, Duane Littles