I’d consider my relationship with my younger brother to be your typical bond between siblings. Sure, we have our unique likes/dislikes, but we also share similar tastes and attitudes on certain things, including horror. Granted, we aren’t the warped minds of half-siblings Thomas Lo Bianco and Charles Brubaker in Jose Prendes’ Blood Brothers (formerly known as “The Divine Tragedies”), which is based on the real-life Leopold and Leob murders. Prendes’ dirty little ditty previously made its rounds last year on the festival circuit, and is set for a limited theatrical release and VOD on December 2nd, with a DVD release due next February. The relationship with my brother is nothing like this.
Half-brothers Tomas (Jon Kondelik) and Charles (Graham Denham) live with their bedridden and perpetually-inebriated mother (Barbara Crampton). Despite different fathers, the brothers share similar interests, such as enjoying the same movies, and eating at their favorite diner. The two also share a passion of sadistic torture and murder. Their obsession with the perfect murder, as well as their desire to indulge in their exploration of killing someone together leads them to target a waitress at their favourite diner. However, things don’t go according to plan, and the siblings catch the eye of psychic detective Homer Gaul (Ken Foree). With the increased pressure on the brothers, thoughts of betrayal set in.
Despite facing the constraints of an indie budget and limited locations, Prendes throws in some unique aesthetics to try and beef up the proceedings. Scenes in the film are often lit by one of the primary colours (red, green and blue), which depending on the scene and subject, gives them a surreal feeling. This is no more apparent than with the opening scene involving the brothers toying with “Druggy Dougie”, who is forced to play a twisted game of “Would You Rather?” for some cocaine. Prendes also chooses to give many of the shots a confined feeling. Many of the scenes are indoors, with only a couple of actors in the shot, and the camera in tight. It all gives the picture a more professional feel, but also attempts to heighten the tension.
Speaking of the look (and subsequent feel), the brothers definitely have that air of Patrick Bateman about them: Charming on the outside, but vile psychopaths under the surface. Granted, neither Kondelik or Denham have the same skill and presence as Christian Bale, but they do turn in strong performances in their own right. The duo come across as a more evil version of schoolyard bullies with their back-and-forth dialogue, but are also quite capable of some heinous acts. The exploration of their relationship is probably the best thing about this film. At the start of the story, Kondelik is seen as the more dominant of the two, with Denham (and his George McFly hair) being more of an reinforcer of their sinister actions. Midway through, the brothers undergo a change in personality, with Denham becoming the more dominant and detached from reality, and Kondelik softening his tone and becoming more remorseful. Inevitably, this leads to conflict between the two. Ken Foree is still great at what he does, chewing the scenery while spouting lines that would normally seem incredibly cheesy if they came from anyone else. Unfortunately, Crampton’s talents are squandered in her role. She’s primarily stuck in bed, sipping on wine. Only near the end of the film does she get a chance to do something, but it’s a little late by then.
In addition to Crampton’s underutilization, the movie’s pursuit of a surreal, almost comic-book feel is a bit of a detriment. Like Foree’s character, the dialogue that the brothers share is fun, but does tend to venture into the cheesy side. As well, in Prendes’ pursuit to hit home the film’s stylized look, we’re treated to fantasy shots (such as when Thomas fantasizes about one victim “glowing” with rose petals around them as he’s beating them) that come off as more absurd than surreal. Having Foree’s character being gifted with clairvoyance feels even more gimmicky and unnecessary. It starts to feel more like overcompensation than an actual technique. The use of CGI blood also doesn’t help in instances where it’s used, undermining the entire feel.
As I watched Blood Brothers, the initial interest that I had with the exploration of the relationship between murderous brothers had me going, but as Blood Brothers progressed, the subsequent additions and overuse of style started to have my interest wane. Granted, the writing and story were still great, and I could accept the over-the-top dialogue. Sadly, the film’s need to impress upon the viewer its eye candy ended up sucking out a lot of the fun. I still enjoyed the film for what it was, but this could’ve been more enjoyable had moderation been used. Ultimately, Blood Brothers is a case of a good idea being buried under excess.