Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Blessed (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on December 22, 2004

Directed by Simon Fellows/Screenplay by Jayson Rothwell/starring Heather Graham, James Purefoy, Fionnula Flanagan, Stella Stevens, Andy Serkis, David Hemmings/DEJ Productions

An American woman living in London discovers that the fertility clinic she’s using to get pregnant is not what it seems to be.

Sometimes you take a chance on a movie and it turns out to be surprisingly good, and you want to tell everyone about it. Other times, you get a movie like Blessed.

Blessed is not a horribly bad movie. It’s just not a particularly good one. If you’re looking for something scary and disturbing, you’d be better off watching the news.

This British production is yet another take on the progressively silly “She’s having Satan’s baby” subgenre, which of course began with Polanski’s classic Rosemary’s Baby. Blessed attempts to update the premise by using modern science to deliver said spawn of Lucifer (never mind that we just saw this same basic idea with Godsend), but winds up simply rehashing the same themes and much of the story elements that were already done much more effectively in Rosemary.

Our heroine Samantha (Graham) is an American married to a British guy (Purefoy), and their attempts to knock her up have been in vain. Why she needed to be American, I couldn’t really tell you, since it has no bearing on the story whatsoever (other than it gave them an excuse to cast a relatively well-known Hollywood actress in the lead). In fact, the whole movie is kind of vague when it comes to little details like place and time; it took me quite some time to figure out exactly when and where these events were supposed to be taking place. Maybe I’m dense, but I’ve seen enough movies that I can usually catch on to these things fairly quickly. They don’t go out of their way to explain much in this movie, which actually may have been for the best.

Anyway, they discover this fertility clinic way out in BFE (in this case, the E stands for England) that’s supposed to be the best in the country. In order to get treatment there, they have to stay at this remote complex of houses near the woods. Why this doesn’t immediately set off warning bells, I’m not sure. I’m no expert on how fertility clinics usually work, but I don’t imagine people normally have to move in. I could be wrong. So because there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise, they pack up and move.

Problem is, there’s a dude running around in a monk’s outfit (complete with a hood that’s supposed to make him “scary”) attacking and killing the pregnant women in the complex. If this were the main storyline, it might actually be a novel twist on this whole tired genre – Rosemary meets Jason! – but it’s not. In fact no one seems to notice that the latest victim is even gone, except for Samantha, who was the last person to see her alive (except the killer, obviously) but conveniently didn’t see her get murdered. So not much is made of this either.
The victim lived in the house across the street from Samantha and her husband, so for some reason the real estate agent (Stevens) talks them into moving into the house. No, there’s no reason for this either. And it’s never explained why this place even needs someone to “sell” the houses, when everyone staying there is going to the fertility clinic!

After about an hour of Samantha going to treatments, making friends with fellow residents and arguing with her increasingly snippy husband, the plot FINALLY kicks into gear with the introduction of an Italian priest (Serkis). Serkis, best known for playing Gollum in the LOTR trilogy, is British and plays this character with a clipped accent that reminds one of the bad dubbing on the American versions of Argento films. No one seems to know what an Italian priest is doing hanging around this place, and strangely enough, no one seems to care. Even Samantha is only mildly curious. She gets a little creeped out when he warns her away from the clinic, but being a silly American girl she’s incapable of putting two and two together. (That’s sarcasm, folks.)

I won’t give away what happens from there, just in case you’re as foolish as I was to rent this thing, but suffice it to say that it gets increasingly ridiculous, leading up to a climax that can only be described as “batshit-crazy”.

In the meantime, the script seems to try to copy Rosemary’s Baby whenever possible. Besides the obvious demon-child theme, there’s a big conspiracy among residents of an isolated community; there’s the suspicious friend (Flannagan) who gets disposed of to keep said conspiracy going; there’s the husband who becomes more and more of a distant asshole as the story progresses; and there’s the elderly doctor/authority figure (Hemmings) who may not have the heroine’s best interests at heart. Just in case you don’t grasp the “homage”, there’s an extremely obvious visual reference that practically screams at you, “we’re doing Rosemary’s Baby! Get it, get it?”

Well, Blessed is certainly no Rosemary’s Baby. I’ve seen Polanski’s classic several times over the years, and what I love about it is this ominous sense that Rosemary’s entire world is gradually closing in on her. At the beginning, her own religious beliefs are in question, and by the end she’s so shocked and confused that she doesn’t know what to do except…give in. This feeling is bolstered by Mia Farrow’s fantastic performance as a terrified, naïve waif. But that film is such an ingeniously brilliant product of its time. It tells us so much about the time and place in which it was made, and for me it’s right up there with the great horror films of all time.

Blessed, on the other hand, has nothing to say about anything. Not for a second do we get even a trace of that same paranoid, unhinged atmosphere that Polanski conjured so brilliantly. We never feel that Samantha is in any real danger, or that she might be imagining the whole thing, or that she’s gotten in way over her head. We don’t even feel annoyed by her inability to comprehend that something sinister might actually be going on. The movie never makes us care that much. Graham is a competent enough actress, and she’s certainly fetching as always (even while fake-pregnant), but she doesn’t have the necessary depth to make us feel for Samantha. We’re just kind of mildly interested, at best. We’re sympathetic, but we don’t really care.
Purefoy is even less interesting as her self-absorbed husband, whose radical personality changes seem abrupt and overdone. In keeping with the movie’s overall sense of unfocused vagueness, his mood shifts are just odd and inappropriate logically. Because after all, if you were in on a conspiracy, you wouldn’t want to act differently than normal, right? That would naturally draw suspicion, which you obviously don’t want. So that makes no sense. Plus Purefoy reminded me of a British Thomas Jane every second he was on screen, down to the same mannerisms. I have no problem with Jane, but the eerie resemblance was distracting and annoying.

In case you haven’t gleaned this by now, logic is not this movie’s strong suit. I mean, a Satanic fertility clinic? What the hell? Don’t these places have to be certified by some kind of board before they can open for business? Don’t the people running it have to be checked out? I mean, seriously, let’s think about this for a second. Did Satan show up and jerk off into a vial so Rollergirl could be impregnated with his demon-spawn? What kind of porn does Satan watch in that little room? Are all of the employees in on this deal, or is it just the doctors? How much does Satan pay these people? I mean, Jesus, imagine the malpractice suit…

Despite all of this, Blessed is not a terrible piece of work. It’s decently acted (for the most part) and well shot. It’s never unwatchable, just sort of lamely mediocre. It might have made for an OK network-TV Movie of the Week, back in the days when they actually made those on a regular basis. However, I can’t actually think of any good reasons to rent it, either. If you’re looking for a good recent British horror film to rent, I’d recommend Close Your Eyes (excellent), Deathwatch (also featuring Serkis), The Bunker or even The Hole (see previous review, it’s more of a thriller though). If you’ve seen all of those… well, I still wouldn’t recommend Blessed. And I rented the damn thing too; I didn’t get a free screener like some people do. So take my word for it.

One final note: veteran British actor Hemmings (Blow Up) apparently died during filming of this movie, which explains his character’s disappearance from the last third of the movie. He was much acclaimed and well respected, and it’s too bad his final film had to be so lame. But at least he didn’t have to see it.

** 12/22/04

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