A man is kept locked away in a padded cell — only to be brought out when a doctor and his orderly wish to conduct acts of cruel and sadistic torture. The purpose: to harvest blood while serotonin, adrenaline, and endorphins are pumping through the man’s system. Each time he is brought out, the levels of torture are increased to maximize the content in the blood that’s drawn.
Stephen Biro certainly set a new standard in terms of extreme cinema with “Bouquet of Guts and Gore” — the first installment in the “American Guinea Pig”. A graphic film that filled every frame with as much visceral content possible. With the follow up film, “Bloodshock”, Marcus Koch steps out from behind the FX table and into the directors chair and takes the series in a direction that will genuinely shock viewers. But not in the way you’d expect.
Marcus Koch and Stephen Biro wanted to go into a completely different direction with “Bloodshock” in order to not only keep the films in the “American Guinea Pig” series fresh but also to keep viewers on their toes. And while Marcus maybe known for his mastery in the guts and gore department, he tapped into his experimental and artistic side that we got to see with his movie “Fell”. Where “Bouquet of Guts and Gore” was unapologetically brutal, “Bloodshock” is a film that’s a complete assault on the senses. It’s aim is to push the viewer's boundaries as much as possible but not through deceptions of torture and gore.
Having said that, there’s still plenty of gruesome depictions of torture that will make viewers squirm in their seats (something I actually witnessed first hand at the screening). As an unknown man (Dan Ellis) and an unknown woman (Lillian McKinney) are systematically mutilated throughout the film’s runtime. What’s especially satisfying about this element is that the movie isn’t trying to one-up “Bouquet of Guts and Gore”. If anything, it takes several steps back and uses smaller but strategically placed moments of graphic content that still packs a punch — like having the man’s side cut open so the Doctor can saw off a rib bone.
Those moments are effective but what makes “Bloodshock” such a beast of a film is that it goes after the viewer on multiple levels. There’s more of an attention on the emotional and mental breakdown of our victims, rather than the physical mutilations, and Marcus brings that out in the movie’s style. The cold, sterile nature of the black and white footage and the long takes of nothing more than a character sitting in an empty room — where the only thing they can do is mentally process what’s occurring to them — creates an overbearing atmosphere of unease and dread. It’s less about creating a sensation of rush through shock but more about pressure from the isolation and not knowing how far things are going to go. At times, watching the movie was almost like being put through a psychological experiment — the repetitious pattern of scene structure, almost surreal-like imagery without the distortion of reality, the intense sound design that rattles your very core. It’s as if the movie is designed to drive a viewer away — it actually wants you to get up and walk away — but instead of doing that by pushing you past your limits, it takes you to the very edge.
From a production standpoint, a great thing about the movie’s focus on the characters — besides the obvious emotional impact of the movie — is that we get to see an outstanding performance from Dan Ellis. There’s actually empathy that’s developed for the characters since they exist as more than just horror film fodder. Yes, it’s no secret that we at Film Bizarro are fans of Dan so there is a little bit of biased-ness there. However, there’s little to no dialogue in “Bloodshock” outside of maybe a few lines from the Doctor and the Orderly. That emotional core hinges on the performance of Dan and his ability to deliver so much content through nothing more than his emoting, and it works. However, that’s not to sell the other actors short, especially Lillian McKinney who gives a brave and intense performance as well. It’s just that the movie’s focal point is on Dan Ellis’s character — the one we spend the most time with — and his ability to do so much with so little is pivotal to the film’s success.
Even though expectations for “Bloodshock” are high after the success of “Bouquet of Guts and Gore”, I genuinely don’t believe anyone is prepared for what Marcus Koch and Stephen Biro have created together. “Bloodshock” is an entirely different and unique beast that’s unrelenting, cruel and fucking evil. Just not in the way you expect. As both a viewer and a fan, it was immensely satisfying to see Marcus delve into his experimental side and take “Bloodshock” in an interesting and effective direction. It’s a movie that may not have all the gore and gruel of the first “American Guinea Pig” film but one that pushes the audience to the very edge of their comfort. The visuals, the emotions, and even the sound are unrelenting in their pursuit to put as much pressure on the viewer as possible. Many people are quick to avoid a project like the “American Guinea Pig” series for its content, but “Bloodshock” is a movie that needs to be seen — while intense, it’s a movie that succeeds at utilizing every aspect of a film to deliver an effective viewing experience.
Note: The screenshots used in this review come from the trailer and the review is based on an extended "director's cut" of the movie and may not represent the final release of the film.