Director Rodrigo Bellot’s Blood-Red Ox is either an unnerving psychological thriller or an experimental supernatural horror film, depending on your interpretation of some very rich and complicated subtext. Set in the jungles of Bolivia, the narrative follows photojournalist Amir (Mazin Akar) and his boyfriend Amat (Kaolin Bass) as they explore the rainforest. The couple meets Amir’s old friend Amancaya (Andrea Camponovo), who plans to show them the “Water factory,” a colossal part of the jungle giving birth to the purest drinking water and richest biodiversity. Facing a constant threat from outside industry and corporations, “The Water Factory” has become the epicenter of many local legends, primarily dealing with supernatural judgment.
A palpable sense of foreboding ushers in Amir and Amat’s stay in Bolivia. After witnessing the death of an ox on their first day, the two lovers face constant visions of blood-soaked terror. In this first half of Blood-Red Ox, the characters and narrative are most present. After the first act, things descend into a chaotic horrorshow of an unreliable protagonist and Pagan rituals. Becoming more Avante Garde with each scene, the film diverges from a traditional horror/thriller into a creative blend of art house and grindhouse filmmaking.
“…the two lovers face constant visions of blood-soaked terror.”
Akar and Bass give outstanding performances as the two leads. Each choice by the actors lends itself to the ongoing sense of dread crafted by writers Nate Atkins and Bellot. These character choices unlock many of the film’s fundamental questions, themes, and subtext, allowing the film to dive even deeper into the realms of uncertainty. No matter how seemingly innocent, everything builds towards a feeling of visceral anxiety.
Shifting from a typical narrative structure to hallucinogenic experimental horror is a massive undertaking. Bellot handles this turn in storytelling with gusto through deliberate foreshadowing and repetition. Scenes are sometimes repeated line-for-line from a different perspective or even line-for-line identical, with a new setting. The filmmaker uses themes and threats of violence to create tension while masterfully easing the audience into the less conventional sides of the narrative. By the time the film derails into full experimental horror, you are so invested in Amir and Amat you can barely pry yourself away from the unsettling terrors about to unfold.
Describing the actual genre of Blood-Red Ox is difficult. Even several watches in, some symbolism will still escape even the keenest viewers. After a few rewatches, it is still hard to determine what is reality and what is not. Is the narrative entirely grounded in reality or thriving in a supernatural aura? But it’s these questions of reliability that make that exercise in horror so rewatchable. It’s a tense, uncomfortable film bent on challenging traditional narrative structure. It is a film demanding an active audience and defying those who would passively view this between scrolling on the phone. It may be hard to define or categorize, but at its core, Bellot’s film is a beyond-strange, violent mystery crafted for fans of unconventional storytelling.
For more information about Blood-Red Ox, visit the BG Pics website.
"…a beyond-strange, violent mystery crafted for fans of unconventional storytelling."