Anyone who knows Chris knows Chris likes his Joss Whedon. Among the quotes that Chris looks to most fondly from Joss Whedon, on the subject of writing and crafting effective stories, is “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” Whedon’s quote describes Blood Riders: The Devil Rides With Us, an entertaining, memorable, and very rewatchable work penned and directed by Lari Teras. Teras takes subjects and themes like death, judgment, murder, and violence and spins them into a fantastic, humorous, and almost lighthearted work through effective use of contrast, hyperbole, and clever dialogue. Despite the dark themes Teras’ story delivers on laughs, depicts a clever and original concept of the afterlife, and makes for a delightful horror-comedy adventure with little in the way of drawbacks of flaws.
Blood Riders: The Devil Rides With Us opens with what appears to be an exit interview between a woman who has recently died, as one can tell by the gunshot wound and her pale countenance, and a man with a thick beard and a sharp-looking suit and tie. They sit in a white room, a depiction of the afterlife or the judgment process that the woman is experiencing. The woman, having been murdered, hopes for revenge on those who killed her. The protagonists are introduced in the following scene, with Dane and Zoey filling up on whisky and enjoying each other’s company, and Kyle and Janek trying to clumsily break into and steal a car. Dane and Zoey appear as fun-loving, impulsive and alcohol-driven youths, with Janek and Kyle being intellectual, out-of-place, and methodical young adults haphazardly acting out. Their first break-in attempt fails since no one can drive stick-shift, and when they successfully, as a group of four, steal a second car, they drive into a forest and park the vehicle. They realize with horror that there is a body in the trunk, and that they need to find a way to dispose of the body and ensure that they all stay out of jail.
The film is a bloodbath. When Eric, a friend of Janek and Kyle’s, is summoned to help them in the forest, Zoey accidentally kills him by pushing him onto a tree branch when he threatens to contact the police. When Eric’s detective cousin arrives at Janek’s house the following day, where the four protagonists are hiding, Zoey impulsively murders him as well in a panic, both times ending up notably covered in blood. What follows is an antic and entertaining journey as the four try and dispose of the bodies, encountering a diverse, rich, and entertaining cast of characters. They steal Hitler’s mustache from a hot-and-cold homebody Nazi, rescue Kyle from a group of occult practitioners, and the film comes to a spectacular climax with a shootout and standoff when Janek, Dane, Kyle, and Rosie – who joined the party at Kyle’s rescue – go to the Fuhrer’s Mansion, in actuality the Fuhrer’s Cottage, to rescue Zoey before she can be sacrificed in a black magic ritual.
Blood Riders sports good character development and development of the relationships between those characters. It makes comic character archetypes seem three-dimensional, introduces no shortage of unexpected twists and turns, and boasts brilliant acting and some very cleverly written dialogue. The cinematography for the most part is very on point, as are the lighting and many of the visual effects. The score fits the tone and theme of the movie very effectively and the pacing feels very effective. The hyperbolic nature of much of the film’s content and humor is effective, and the exaggeration and over-intensity of the villain characters and the sheer brilliance of the homebody Nazi add a humorous, lighthearted twist to this blood-drenched and twisted production. The myriad of twists and turns throughout the work, including Dane’s surprise homosexuality, Eric’s death, the abandonment of Kyle to the cultists, and Sam’s betrayal feel like entertaining and clever developments, each of which have subtle buildup that makes them effective. Acting is another major point for Blood Riders. Each of the characters feel rich and fluid, from the homebody zombie to the ambitious Anthea to the brilliant and diverse protagonists, especially Janek, Dane, and Zoey. There are few if any characters who detract from the story, and the actors are very much on-point in their roles.
At moments the acting from some characters or the dialogue aren’t delivered as consistently effectively as through the rest of the film. Dane, Janek, and Zoey are on point but there are instances where Kyle’s awkward deliveries and behaviours seem almost too wooden, to the point of detracting from the performance, though this could very well be in line with his character. The emphasis on sex between Kyle and Rosie and the abruptness of their audio track during the living room scene between Janek and Zoey seems too fast, almost rushed. The development of Janek and Zoey’s relationship followed a steady development and progression and felt resolved and complete by the film’s end – at points Rosie and Kyle felt overemphasized or overdone. While most of the settings and visual effects are well done, the blood splatters worn by characters sometimes seem less than realistic or look painted on, and sometimes the blood splatter sound effects – like at Eric’s murder – feel synthetic.
Blood Riders is a movie that focuses on exceptionally dark themes – death, black magic, judgment and afterlife, murder, and a plethora of other dark or bleak subjects – but makes them light and entertaining through contrast, humorous developments, and hyperbole. Moments like the homebody Nazi, the death interviews, Sam’s betrayal of Dane, and the use of Hitler’s mustache as a plot device feel like iconic and memorable passages in a film with terrific rewatch value. Common themes like the death interviews, Zoey’s being splattered with blood at every murder, and everyone in the film seeming to know Zoey give the film consistency and familiarity, and at the same time despite the consistency the film never feels repetitive, and the characters all experience outstanding exposition and development. It’s dark, it’s grim, it’s tough, but is it ever a fun-filled bloody ride.
Four stars out of five.