Books of Blood is a little exploitative, quite a bit derivative, and overwhelmingly boring.
There’s nary an original image or idea in Brannon Braga’s Books of Blood, but not simply because it’s an adaptation. Like most interpretations of Clive Barker’s work, this one plays fast and loose with the material so as to be only barely recognizable, chucking out the queer subtext and pervert horror vibes of the best Barker work in favor of something easily digestible, familiar, and dead boring. You’ve got the standard-issue ghosts, creepy corpses, and bugs crawling out of mouths — it’s a patchwork film made of horror staples, all doled out slowly and with dull competency. Braga, a writer and producer on latter day Star Trek and here making his debut directorial feature, doesn’t totally prove his horror movie bona fides with Books of Blood, but he also hasn’t made something outright terrible. The direction, writing, and acting are all perfectly serviceable across this anthology film’s three segments, but there is nothing that stands out. In one segment, underworld hitmen are sent looking for a valuable book (of blood, of course), and in another, a grieving mother and famous skeptic meets a man who claims to be a medium who can help her reconnect with her dead son. Both of these segments fade from the mind as soon as they’re over.
It helps, then, that the film’s longest section is also its most memorable: Jenna, a young woman with unbearable misophonia stemming from a mysterious incident with a boy at school, runs away from home only to find herself in a spooky bed and breakfast. The house isn’t haunted, but the homeowners are definitely up to something. Finding out what that something is makes for the most exciting development of the whole film, though the eventual reveal turns out to be little more than an especially sedate take on The People Under the Stairs. But what makes this portion of the film most compelling — specifically, the inciting trauma of its lead character — is also what ends up rankling the most about Books of Blood. As specifics of her past are kept secret throughout the segment proper, general empathy is all that can be afforded to Jenna, especially as the phrasing of her circumstance would seem to suggest sexual assault. But at the end of the movie, when the three segments begin to converge, the details of the incident are revealed in full, casting Jenna not as a victim but as a guilty party. Were these details made clear from the beginning, it would have been possible to construct a deeper, more complicated film than the many other 21st century horror movies about trauma — a full accounting of which could fill a book. Instead, positioning this flashback as a twist ending only serves to cheapen the effect and to make fools of its audience. To his credit, Braga doesn’t make hard moral judgments here and remains empathetic to Jenna’s guilt. But to so intentionally manipulate the audience into empathy by suggesting a young woman was assaulted — and in 2020 it’s hard to believe his intent was anything else — before ultimately revealing a far different truth is simply gross and exploitative. Egregiously, it’s also the only part of Books of Blood that inspires anything more than boredom.
You can currently stream Brannon Braga’s Books of Blood on Hulu.