FILM: Bloody Hell, George! – The Blood Harvest against the Bloodied Past & Bleak Future of Northern Ireland

What started as a straight-forward review of The Blood Harvest (George Clarke’s sixth feature film) has taken on a life of its own.  Where Battle of the Bone had a really strong concept, Onus a flip-side in its storytelling, and Splash Area a playful understanding of the sub-genre it was slicing through; The Blood Harvest is an attempt to marry not two, not three, but four different (and differing) genres together in order to make a movie that stands alone.
Clarke's sixth feature mashes up four different genres
 What I liked about the film, I really liked but to go into the detail of how, and why would be to lay down a floor full of spoilers for you to stumble across.  With that in mind we’re going to try and delicately deconstruct the pros and cons without giving too much away.  In Battle of the Bone Clarke pitched Catholics and Protestants side-by-side to take on the advancing zombie horde.  This was a thematic that would continue on, to a degree, in The Knackery as the realm normalised to the undead.  By the time we reach The Blood Harvest, and it is a different Northern Ireland to that of BoTB, Northern Ireland has taken some strides away from the tribalism it has bogged itself down with.  Or has it?  Loud-mouths with narrow minds and fewer brain cells than an ameba have changed up “the enemy”.  It’s no longer us taigs in the eyes of the DUP but ethnic minorities and the LGBT community.  What Clarke’s movie does clearly is place the threat firmly within the establishment.  It is not a group of travelling gypsies, it is the accepted Northern Irish who are the real danger.  Add in one or two lines about “those fuckers who’ve ruined this country” (paraphrasing) and you’ll no doubt see that the director, a happily married gay father of two, has one-or-two real world beefs he’d like to get off his chest.

If Northern Ireland is to grow a National cinema movement worthy of our conflicted past (see. Weimar cinema, Soviet Montage, Italian New Wave, and Spanish Post-Franco if examples on how conflicts brings out the best creatively) we must be, not only, willing but able to dramatise and make narrative of the core meanings of our shared experience.  This goes beyond movies like 71 (shot in Leeds).  The context of our experience should not be so literal.  It should be contextualised narratively like Nosferatu, as a way of understanding the affects of losing the first World War in Germany.  It should be District 9 as an appartide narrative.  What Clarke is attempting with The Blood Harvest (and has been attempting to various degrees with his other works) is to fablise our past in order to create the third act which sees closure, and order restored.
As important today as it was the day it was painted
 I like the look of the masked killers in The Blood Harvest, especially the pseudo-steampunk helmet that one of the “butchers” wears.  It disfigures the wearer, dehumanizing them, turning them from warm, soft flesh into a cold, hard metallic beast.  The significance of how they go about brutalizing their victims is important.  It’s a message most of us in Belfast see every day and yet few of us have actually taken heed of.  In cutting out one of their victims eyes they have partially blinded them.  The quote “A nation that keeps one eye on the past is wise.  A nation that keeps two eyes on the past is blind.” is significant, and not just because it lives on the side of The Garrick Bar.  It is significant because these victims are now no longer capable of keeping more than one eye on anything.  If they have one eye on the past, their past, then they are blinded to their future.  As a Northern Irish Catholic who remembers having to pass through security checkpoints in Belfast City Centre this is incredibly striking, and meaningful.  The flag protests that brought the city to a halt over Christmas some three years ago by small-minded shit-stains like Jamie Bryson showed us up for not having changed as much as we had previously prided ourselves on.  Since then it has been one Right Wing Loyalist move after another to keep both of Northern Ireland’s eyes on the past.
 
Jamie Bryson - the reason why abortion should be legalised

Most recently the DUP have waged war on the LGBT community and their basic human rights.  A lot of the violence in The Blood Harvest is delivered brutally and almost Neanderthal-like.  The savagery of Alan M. Crawford on Matt (Matt McCreary), and the two Julies (Rachael Stewart and Rachael Galloway) is an attack on youth.  An attack on beauty, but mostly an attach on the future.  The victims differ in gender, something that is uncommon among serials as they tend to work on specific “types” within the community.  What each of these victims have is youthfulness.  They are all the future of Northern Ireland, and in assaulting and maiming them they are being blinded to the future by the Neanderthal past.

Are there problems with this reading of The Blood Harvest?  Certainly.  There are moments in the narrative when the causal logic is either unclear or absent.  For a 90-minute movie there are a lot of differing, even conflicting, genre expectations crammed in there only to have them whittled away one-by-one.  This is fine if it is playing to the genre you were hoping for but can be extremely fruitless if it doesn’t.  Similarly the reveal may need a little more exposition to really sell it.  I’m trying to tip-toe around the issue out of respect to the film-makers, as they wouldn’t want the film spoiled for anyone, but there is a really interesting reading to be drawn out here and all it would take is a little more consideration in the writing to really ground the final third.
Many of the moving days have resembled crime scenes

For me, The Blood Harvest doesn’t quite work in the way that Battle of the Bone did or Splash Area definitely did!  Clarke’s work is at its best when it is playfully inhabiting the genre.  The procedural nature of a movie like The Blood Harvest calls for something that is meticulously drafted and redrafted so that when you pull the rug out an audience can go back and re-watch it to see if it stands up.  There are a few sizable holes in the “legend” of this movie which prevents some of the stronger arguments for a progression in the National cinema movement from being voiced.  This is, of course, just my opinion and for what it’s worth I already know that I overthink genre cinema.  It’s part of the reason I love Exploitation movies, saying that –to advance cinema as an art-form one must find the film’s meaning in their interaction with the construct rather than in the construct itself.  What do you think?

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