Producers: Gary Levinson, Billy Hines, Paris Kassidokostas-Latsis and Terry Dougas   Director: Brad Anderson   Screenplay: Will Honley Cast: Michelle Monaghan, Skeet Ulrich, Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, June B. Wilde, Skylar Morgan Jones, Danika Frederick and Jennifer Rose Garcia   Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Grade: C

Here’s a movie featuring a good many favorite horror tropes rolled up into one package.  There’s a possessed, bloodthirsty child; a gnarled, evil tree; a Cujo-like dog; and a bound, brutalized kidnap victim—all in a story about a troubled mother who will do almost anything to save her darling son.  Directed by Brad Anderson without a hint of humor or camp, “Blood” is effective enough in its grisly way, but gruesome and unpalatable. 

Jess (Michelle Monaghan) is a nurse who’s recovered from years of drug addiction, yet has been awarded primary custody of her two children Tyler (Skylar Morgan Jones) and Owen (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong), much to the irritation of her ex-husband Patrick (Skeet Ulrich), who has remarried—to the family’s erstwhile nanny Shelly (Danika Frederick), with whom he shares a newborn son.  Dissatisfied with his weekend visitations, he’s suing for full custody.

Strapped for money, Jess moves into her remote old family house with Tyler, Owen and Owen’s dog Pip.  But while the kids are investigating the surrounding forest in hopes of going fishing, they come upon a dried-out lakebed with a hideous tree growing in the middle of it.  The excited dog drags Owen into the mud straining to reach it, and later gets loose and runs off into the woods, returning only after searches for it have proven fruitless.  And Pip is hardly the same animal: ferocious and snarling, it attacks Owen, and Jess clubs it to death.

But whatever evil had transformed Pip has been transferred to Owen.  The boy falls ill, but it’s not rabies.  It’s some form of anemia requiring transfusion after transfusion.  But it soon becomes clear to Jess that Owen prefers drinking the blood to receiving it intravenously.  Distraught, she steals what she needs from the hospital’s blood supply, but when that’s no longer possible, she finds an alternative in Helen (June B. Wilde), a patient despondent over a diagnosis of terminal cancer who has no family or close friends to lean on for support.  Jess thinks Helen might be the answer to satisfying Owen’s craving. 

Of course her mad plan does not go well.  And despite an ostensibly conclusive resolution, an end-credits interpolation indicates that the evil has not run its course.  

On a visual level “Blood” is an efficient creepshow, saturated in gloom courtesy of the rough Canadian locales and Bjorn Charpentier’s cinematography.  Robert Mead’s editing is a mite slack; some sequences go on too long, and the running-time could be shortened.  But Matthew Rogers’ score is less incessant than those in many such genre features nowadays.

And the cast is certainly committed.  Ulrich, perhaps its best-known member, is pretty much wasted in a part that requires little from him, but Monaghan gives one of her strongest performances in a role that keeps her onscreen virtually nonstop.  Wilde suffers very credibly, while Jones is persuasively tremulous as a young girl from whom her mother expects perhaps too much.  And Wojtak-Hissong transitions ably from a cute, free-spirited kid to a ravenous creature; the makeup effects are important, of course, as are the screams provided by vocalist Ban Lesage, but the kid sneers and grimaces nicely on his own.

Dyed-in-the-wool genre fans looking for a horror movie that’s uncompromising will probably embrace Anderson’s no-frills tale of maternal love taken to extremes.  Others, however, may be repelled by its unremitting nastiness.