The “cabin in the woods” setting is perhaps one of the most durable, long-standing traditions of the horror genre. The trope has birthed countless serial killers, plagues, and summoned demons through the ages, all to varying degrees of success. Writer/director Timothy Covell’s Blood Conscious is certainly aware of its genre predecessors and pays proper homage to some of the more memorable ones while also attempting to bring racial tensions into the fold.
During a sunny autumn day, we travel along a winding road with Brittney (DeShawn White), her college-age younger brother Kevin (Oghenero Gbaje), and fiancée Tony (Lenny Thomas). Their destination is their parent’s cabin for a relaxing waterfront weekend. Knocks on the door go unanswered, so the trio explores the grounds, resulting in Kevin stumbling upon his parent’s bodies, who appear to have been shot. A stranger (Nick Damici) emerges, gun in hand, espousing claims of demons that have inhabited the bodies of everyone scattered about the grounds.
Tony subdues the stranger, and they place him in the basement, where he continues his seemingly delusional rants. While Tony and Brittany dismiss his mumblings, Kevin begins to look into exactly why he seems to believe this narrative. As a black family in a remote rural area, they understand that notifying authorities and/or seeking help from neighboring homes carry with them a host of additional safety concerns.
“A stranger emerges, gun in hand, espousing claims of demons…”
When a white neighbor approaches in distress, the tension mounts as she begins to accuse Tony and Kevin of behavior that sounds eerily familiar to many of the panicked cell phone “Karens” we’ve witnessed over the past few years. The fact that she sees things so differently only stokes Kevin’s suspicions that things are amiss.
With Blood Conscious, Covell has crafted a purposefully cloudy screenplay that takes each step deliberately and with cautious consideration. He never fully cues the audience to the supporting characters’ motivations or their claims, establishing a shroud in a haze of he said-she said declarations that successfully mount the film’s tension. As sharp as the setup is, there are instances that are undernourished. For example, in an effort to propel the narrative, the three leads seem to recover relatively quickly from their parents’ brutal murder. Additionally, the abrupt ending will undoubtedly frustrate many viewers that may feel it concludes mid-scene.
But the outstanding ensemble overcomes such issues. As Kevin, Gbaje is endearing and inquisitive as he pokes around the edges of the situation and is skeptical to accept things at face value. Thomas commands his no-nonsense character with authority underpinned with just a shred of self-doubt. White acts as the perfect balance between the two contrasting men and is the glue holding them together.
The flaws might be frustrating, but they should not discount the many virtues offered by Blood Conscious. Based on its creepy opening score and the shots nodding to The Shining, Covell, and company seem to have an honest affinity for the genre. Moreover, they are interested in crafting meaningful horror, even if they cannot quite fully stick the landing.
"…Covell, and company seem to have an honest affinity for the genre."