There are several distinct motifs permeating Blood for Irina, the film debut of Fangoria Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Chris Alexander – visceral images of blood, of course, being the primary operative in this intimate glimpse at the abject loneliness of its vampiric protagonist. Blood-stained drains are also a significant symbolic component of the film, one which finds bloodsucking Irina (Shauna Henry) in the midst of her own descent, spiraling downward over decades of feeding on hapless victims. Door knobs and neon exit signs seemingly point her toward a sad finality, one she may welcome after lifetimes of predatory behavior.
Irina, victimized by a bloodsucker in a past life, now lives secluded in a dilapidated shoreside motel. She spends most of her time wandering the sparsely populated streets in search of sustenance, just as she has over the past century. Traumatized by memories, Irina suffers from an inexplicable sickness that not even blood can remedy. The only other souls connected to Irina are a hotel manager – a servant-of-sorts who cleans up Irina’s bloody messes – and a prostitute (Carrie Gemmell) enamored by her lady-of-the-night counterpart. They will each need to find a way to cope with Irina’s ensuing demise, but not before more blood is shed.
The film opens with a montage that establishes the cold, lonely world inhabited by Irina. Images of abandoned motels, frozen landscapes, and the vast ocean are less-than-subtle symbols for each characters’ alienation. Their co-dependency is akin to the interrelationships of people existing on the fringe of society who share in a damaging lifestyle (drugs, prostitution), provided here with a gothic twist. The film is composed almost as if a slideshow devoted to their inescapable desolation. Irina traverses these landscapes with an unquenchable thirst that goes beyond blood – she longs for a humanity lost ages ago.
Experimental and nearly dialogue-free, Blood for Irina extinguishes any preconceptions one might have of its director’s association heading one of the most enduring horror magazines. Alexander’s artful approach is quite daring considering the lure of his name to loyal readers, some of whom may not be receptive to the film’s unconventional style. Rather than deliver a patronizing bloodbath, Alexander opts for starkly composed imagery, and a surreal quality that allows adventurous viewers a glimpse into the mind of Irina, and, perhaps, that of Alexander’s own. Blood for Irina is clearly a labor of love for the director, one dripping just as much in existentialism as the gory stuff.
Blood for Irina has more in common with the slower burning films of the ’70s than any contemporary takes on vampire lore. Think Jean Rollin’s La Vampire Nue (The Nude Vampire) (1970) more so than Jim Mickle’s Stake Land (2010), the former also featuring a woman wandering the streets with a blood condition. Alexander’s work may be a little easier to interpret than some of the ’70s offerings, but is no-less-worthy of comparison. This is especially true in Alexander’s decision to avoid gimmickry often associated with today’s homages. His film is never less than heartfelt and doesn’t stoop to mockery to wink at the audience.
Blood for Irina is not without a few minor hitches. As mentioned, the film is dialogue-free but for some voiceover provided by Irina that operates as a chapter intro or to punctuate an unfolding scene. For example, at a point in the film, Irina utters the words “She is like me…lost…sinking” which in context works perfectly, but is delivered with robotic sounding effects on the actor’s voice that tends to be more grating than emotionally empty. This effect is used throughout the work any time Irina delivers an address. If the desired effect was to distance the viewer from Irina, then it works; if it was to further endear us to her plight, it may work counter to that for some viewers.
Alexander and his small crew overcome the deficiencies normally associated with microbudget films by creating a wholly convincing environment. He uses the scant locations exceptionally well, bisecting nicely composed shots with alleyways, staircases, and other objects to provide a sense of Irina’s duality. The music score, also created by Alexander, is evocative and a nice accompaniment for scenes of both contemplation and bloodletting. Each of these components, as well as the solid performances, are successes in favor of Alexander’s overall vision.
Blood for Irina is an impressive first effort, especially considering all the hats worn by Alexander on the production. It’s refreshing to see someone in his position embrace vulnerability to create uncompromising and horrific art. His delicate handling of the material shows true reverence for the time period he’s referencing, but with a contemporary look and feel that provides us a “Chris Alexander film” and not “Chris Alexander does his best Jess Franco impression”. It may not appeal to every type of horror fan, but those versed in artsy European vampire films, or those at least curious, should find plenty to appreciate here.
– By Chris Hallock