Bloody Good Time



Netflix, 2020

6 episodes

Of note to fans of compact bursts of un-self-serious horror, the Norwegian series Bloodride (2020; original title Blodtur) has recently been added to Netflix's streaming catalog, joining such series as Two Sentence Horror Stories (2019- ), also on Netflix; Shudder's Creepshow (2019- ) series, renewed for an upcoming second season; and, to a lesser extent, Amazon Prime Video's Lore (2017-2018) in the resurgence of the tv horror anthology. While it may not contain any masterpieces of the form, it is certainly on par with current comparable series, offering up enough occasionally gory fun to recommend it.

The stories in Bloodride, created by Kjetil Indregard and Atle Knudsen, have no connection to one another beyond the opening credits sequence, so its six episodes, all clocking in at just a few minutes on either side of half an hour, can be watched in any order. The title connects to the opening frame, such as it is, in which a seemingly empty bus with an unpleasant-looking driver is revealed to carry the souls or spirits of characters from the various episodes (each opening sequence gives slightly expanded focus to the character or characters from that particular episode). Beyond its effectively creepy aesthetic, this frame doesn't bear too much thinking about: for example, some of the spectral rider are murderers and some are victims, so it would seem to be a stretch to see this as, say, a bus to hell (which was a tempting reading after the first episode), leaving the "bloodride" to operate more as a metaphor for the viewer experience than for anything specific in the series itself. The tone of the episodes has a lot of affinity with the HBO Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996) series, minus the bad puns, as well as with the first Creepshow film (1982). While Bloodride isn't quite horror comedy, it is assertively entertaining rather than unsettling, with some of the installments even including that EC comics-style moral message found in Crypt and Creepshow, and it isn't generally bloody or graphic enough to put off the average horror viewer (though the first episode might cause animal lovers some discomfort).

Like most horror anthologies, Bloodride is uneven. Two of its best episodes bookend the series. The first, "Ultimate Sacrifice," finds Molly (Ine Marie Wilmann), her husband Leon (Bjørnar Teigen), and her daughter Katja (Emma Spetalen Magnusson) relocating, with extreme reluctance in Molly's case, from the city to one of those small towns with a dark secret that are ubiquitous in the horror genre. The mechanics of that secret drive a simple but well executed parable about greed, and the episode falls into that category of horror that engages with financial anxieties by way of the supernatural (think of the tradition of films in which the protagonists can't leave the haunted house that they purchased because they would take too much of a loss). The sixth episode, "The Elephant in the Room," takes place at an office party, the off-kilter atmosphere of which is helped by everyone wearing full-body animal costumes (it's a theme party). Paul (Karl Vidar Lende) and Kristin (Rebekka Jynge), the company's newest employees, hear about a coworker's coma-inducing accident on the job and, deciding that something untoward is going on, embark on some amateur sleuthing. "Elephant" succeeds on the strength of its leads and their tentative bonding, a little gleefully deployed gore mixed with some comedy, and some aggressively odd and off-putting moments of behavior by one of the characters, conduct of which HR would most definitely not approve. "Bad Writer," in which Olivia (Dagny Backer Johnsen) takes a writing class and is subjected to much worse than peer feedback, is not quite as strong as the first and last entries, but it overall belongs in the top rather than the bottom half of the season. Its central trope is by no means a new one, and viewers would be best served not to think too hard about the plot holes created by the narrative, but Johnsen gives a strong, appealing lead performance, Henrik Rafaelsen is effective as Olivia's ambiguously strange classmate Alex, and the story pulls off a few legitimately good twists by the end.

"Three Sick Brothers" and "The Old School" are significantly more middling offerings. The first, involving dysfunctional brothers, a hitchhiker, and a trip to the family cabin, suffers from its own reliance on a long-established plot trope (including that it is easy for the reveal in such a plot to feel like a cheat), and although it is sufficiently enjoyable in the moment, it's hard to remember specifics a week or so after watching it. While "The Old School" also treads very familiar ground—a woman named Sanna (Ellen Bendu) takes a job at a newly reopened school in the countryside and finds herself investigating an ominous mystery from decades in its past—it does so efficiently and with solid performances. It also benefits from some impressive and well shot scenery, and its ending deviates at least slightly from those of many similar tales. "Lab Rats," about ruthless CEO Edmund's (Stig R. Amdam) unsavory efforts to figure out who stole his company's new drug prototype, is the weakest of the series, and the only one that was a bit tedious to sit through. The stereotypes of the megalomaniacal, amoral businessman and the group of people trapped in a confined space so that they might begin to turn on one another don't do enough to dispel the feeling that you've seen this story too many times before. Perhaps this is in part because the story itself strains one's suspension of disbelief even for horror. The inciting incident, for example, raises the questions of (spoilers?) why exactly a seemingly successful company would possess only a single small vial of its supposedly very important new product and, more bafflingly, why Edmund offers to show it to his assembled dinner guests. What, precisely, is anyone supposed to glean from looking at an antidepressant? After this object is discovered to be missing, it's lucky for Edmund that his company has a very large, lockable glass room that seems to be used to sedate or kill rats for experiments by filling the entire thing with gas.

On the whole, Bloodride doesn't ask too much of viewers, and it doesn't achieve, except maybe  in "The Elephant in the Room," memorable atmosphere at the level of Creepshow's "The House of the Head" (adapted by Josh Malerman from his short story of the same name). However, even the less successful episodes are entertaining enough, and their short length means a brisk pace that suits the types of stories that it tells. There are worse ways to help ride out a pandemic lockdown. - Leah Richards & John R. Ziegler

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