The genre mashup at the centre of Blood Red Sky is just the first of its many hybrid qualities, not all of which serve it equally well. The film is also a mashup of languages, as it is probably 75 percent in English and 25 percent in German – a very tolerable way for a film to maintain its geographical roots, while still appealing to a global Netflix audience weaned on English-language movies. Alas, it also feels like a mashup of cinema and television, possessing the appearance of a serial hour-long drama that undercuts its decidedly gonzo soul.
In fact, there’s something about Peter Thorwarth’s film that resembles the core components of another Netflix property, a TV show, which any given viewer is only likely to have extracted from the content firehose if friends happened to recommend it. That’s Into the Night, a Belgian production that also takes place almost exclusively on an airplane, and features a dozen European languages underpinned by primarily English. In that show, a solar phenomenon has made the sun poisonous to human beings, so in order to avoid dying from exposure, a ragtag group of assorted Europeans must keep flying west to remain in darkness. The passengers in Blood Red Sky – at first only one, then more – have an entirely different reason for avoiding sunlight.
Nadja (Peri Baumeister) is the single mother of a young boy, Elias (Carl Anton Koch), and she’s traveling from Berlin to New York for some unspecified medical treatment from an American specialist. She wears a wig and she has to inject herself with a clear fluid at regular intervals in order to control – to suppress – something existential and convulsive. She starts to realise she’s not going to get there on time when a psychotic flight attendant (Alexander Scheer) emerges from the galley spattered in blood, but with a gleeful smile suggesting it’s not his own. He and a crew of fellow terrorists – which include a solitary familiar Hollywood face, Prison Break’s Dominic Purcell – have taken control of the flight and plan to do … something with it. As the co-pilot is also one of their plants, there’s a good chance they’ll succeed in whatever that is.
They didn’t calculate for Nadja, though. She makes a run for the lavatory in order to give herself her periodic injection, but they shoot her dead to prove the seriousness of their threat. Well, they shoot her “dead.” Turns out she’s already part of the way there, as she stands up a few minutes later, her eyes now a demented yellow, her incisors pointed downward from her upper gum, her ears looking more bat than human.
Yes, Nadja’s a vampire, and all that that implies. Blood Red Sky keeps that somewhat of a secret, but it’s a revelation that is probably key to any discussion of the finer points of the film, and is likely to appear in all the press materials (such as the ones included with this review). It’s a great conceit for a hijacking thriller, which takes the expected genre and puts it on its bat-like ear.
One of the film’s problems, though, is a rather curious attitude toward keeping us in suspense about other aspects of its story. The film opens on a point very near to the end of the narrative before rewinding to show us how we got there, but this choice bears little fruit in terms of dramatic profundity, while also deflating some of the tension of what could go wrong on a plane in peril. Seeing how the story plays out is fun in keeping with the conventions of the vampire genre, but in the back of our minds we always know more than we want to know about what’s going to happen.
The story flirts with some interesting themes but doesn’t fully commit to them. The hijackers are trying to frame some Muslim passengers for the hijacking, one of whom (Kais Setti) becomes one of the main sympathetic characters we follow. After introducing that aspect to the story, though, it doesn’t follow through on it enough to draw any of the parallels it may be trying to make.
The vampire stuff? Yeah, pretty good. The effects themselves are first rate, and we get flashbacks to the event that caused Nadja first to get bitten, to discover the drugs that could keep her alternate persona at bay. There’s an intriguing tension between her obvious hungers and the part of her that needs to cling to her role as a protective mother. And unleashing the undead in the enclosed space of an airplane does have the delicious byproducts you might expect, even if it forces some of the logistics of landing the plane – the bread and butter of any good hijacking movie – to the background. Best not to consider too closely the idiotic decision made by one of the villains, which pushes the movie toward camp, but rather just appreciate the gnarly outcomes of that choice.
So Blood Red Sky is enjoyable, but the one thing that does hold it back from achieving its goals more unreservedly is that TV production design. You might think that in an age when television reigns supreme over movies – for most people, anyway – a movie looking like TV would be a good thing. But the defining quality of prestige TV is that it’s supposed to look like a movie – essentially, we want something we’d mistake for cinema stretched out into long form. Blood Red Sky gets that back to front, but it’s still got plenty of juice to please genre enthusiasts – whichever genre that may be.