A commercial jet bound from Germany to New York crash lands on a Scottish military base, and a ten-year-old boy slides out from its belly. It is the type of opening designed to raise questions, but the monster and slasher horror DNA at the heart of Blood Red Sky soon makes itself clear. Director Peter Thorwarth understands the constraints, formulas, and appeal of scares based around bloody rampages and the indiscriminate peril of death—or undeath. Indeed the film’s unlikely hero turns out to be the boy’s mother, herself a vampiric being on her way to find a cure when their transport is hijacked.
The story begins with the expected beats of a hijacking: a plucky child and his unwell mother befriend a few kindly strangers, while the cockpit soon becomes a pool of blood as a rogue flight attendant joins forces with terrorists intent on sinking the stock market. But Nadja (Peri Baumeister), the mother, harbours a supernatural secret—and she must keep herself dosed up on formaldehyde or give away her curse. Her son Elias (Carl Anton Koch) remains ignorant of the details of his mother’s sickness (early in the film he says she has a problem with her blood—a true but misleading statement). But Nadja soon has to decide whether her son’s innocent picture of his mother is worth his life.
Baumeister and Koch carry two halves of the film’s emotional weight, acting as the audience’s eyes at key points and perspectives. Baumeister captures Nadja’s difference through her physicality and carefully avoided eye contact even before she is forced to reveal her true nature. She proves a welcome subversion of the monstrous mother, one who uses her curse not to torment her kin but to protect. Koch strikes a balance between the understandable fear and confusion of a terrorist attack and the intuitive thinking that lets him support his mother from the living. Elias is written extremely well, giving the young Koch material that avoids both the hysterical horror child and the preternaturally gifted tropes and introducing him as a chatty, friendly child before hell breaks loose. Yes, his steady hand and rapid decisiveness in the final act strain credulity, but so does a vampire on an airplane.
Secondary characters fall largely into caricatures, though ones with key parts to play in a well-defined narrative; the kindly stranger, the innocent victims, the secret talent, the psychopathic hijacker, and the hitman built like a tank. However, the ways in which Nadja’s vampiric qualities are revealed to friends and foes provide small, satisfying twists and complications. Instead of seeking to break the genre mould, these are thoughtful layers that heighten the extreme violence and death-defying stakes.
Structurally, Blood Red Sky is nestled within its initial flashback from Scotland to Germany. Once there, further flashbacks provide context around Nadja’s first encounter with the undead and its effect on her body, soul, and experience of motherhood. The story’s flow is kept coherent throughout, and the film picks strategic points at which to add depth and background to Nadja’s conflicted state as monster/saviour on the flight. However, these moments interrupt the thrilling fight sequences and tension as the hijackers lay booby traps and eschew bargains. As the film rockets towards an explosive, blood-soaked ending where morality must be pushed aside in favour of survival, emotional beats and context ultimately prove less important than action-packed set pieces. The film would perhaps be stronger as a shorter, tighter piece that does away with the all-too-common tendency for over-explanation.
First publicised as Transatlantic 473, Blood Red Sky is a much more apt title for this midair gorefest. The film’s overreliance on flashbacks and explanation hampers the otherwise pulse-raising pace, and characters beyond Nadja and Elias are given little thought beyond archetype. However, nothing lacks in the area of violence, guts, and inner demons. It achieves precisely what it intends for an audience who knows—and loves—what to expect.
Words by Carmen Paddock
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