Traci Patterson (Kaley Ball), an adrift 20-something who’s still reeling from the death of her father and her breakup with an abusive fiancé Ben (Jordan Boyd), discovers that she’s pregnant. With the help of her friends, Erin and Mandy (Arian Thigpen, Keni Bounds), she decides to terminate her pregnancy, but soon after leaving the clinic, she begins seeing and hearing things – shapes in the corner of her eye, strange noises in the middle of the night, and ghoulish figures stalking her every move. Is it guilt or are Traci and her friends in grave danger?
Hint: it’s not guilt. There’s definitely someone after Traci and her friends.
Writer/director Chris Moore’s 2016 feature Blessed Are The Children has a great cold open: an abortion clinic employee leaves work to discover two people wearing masks that resemble babies’ faces holding signs that read “God Hates You.” It’s a familiar sight for women who have visited a family planning center and it immediately casts the film’s unknown villains in opposition to women’s rights to exercise agency over their own bodies. The employee gets away harm-free, but the threat has been established. When we are introduced to Traci and her friends, we know it’s just a matter of time before we see those masks again.
The feminist angle is just one of many elements that help to distinguish Moore’s slasher film. This is a film that is almost entirely female-driven; Traci, Erin and Mandy all fully fleshed out characters with distinct personalities and motivations. The men in their lives, on the other hand, are little more than cannon fodder: Traci’s abusive ex Ben, her philandering doctor crush John (David Moncrief) and Erin’s new fling Stephen (Michael Kinslow) barely get a handful of lines before they’re dispatched in gruesome fashion.
As played by Ball, Traci is a bit of a disaster, but she’s a relatable mess. Traci is aware of her bad decisions, even as she often feels powerless to stop herself. My favourite element of Moore’s script is how Traci talks to herself when she’s frustrated, chastising herself and verbalizing all of the things she’s unable to say to the people she feels wronged by. As virginal Erin, Thigpen struggles with some clunky and unconvincing dialogue, though her enthusiasm is often delightful. My favourite character, however, is Bounds’ Mandy, the smart-aleck lesbian who is deeply invested in her friends’ lives and personal happiness. The character is the film’s greatest asset and an unexpected highlight.
One thing I really appreciated is Moore’s clear love and awareness of the genre. Blessed Are The Children is liberally peppered with homages to several slasher greats. The most obvious is a series of prank calls, a quick bit involving the attic and point of view shots from the killers’ perspective that evoke Black Christmas (and Halloween in the case of the last item). The baby face mask foreshadows last year’s Happy Death Day and the red raincoats worn by the killers copy the fashion made famous by Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now villain. Meanwhile, garden shears become weapons like The Burning and a shower scene leads to a familiar Psycho outcome. The cheeky inclusions are well-incorporated into the film’s plot without being gimmicky and prove to be a delight for horror fans.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Blessed Are The Children occurs near the halfway mark when (SPOILERS) defacto protagonist Traci is cruelly – and very violently – dispatched Dressed To Kill-style in the elevator. It is such an unexpected narrative development that I half-expected her death to be a dream sequence, but kudos to Moore for having the guts to kill off his lead. This does mean that there’s a brief lag as the narrative shifts back to Erin and Mandy and abandons the abortion/revenge angle that initially appeared to drive the film. Eventually, Blessed Are The Children regains its momentum, but Traci’s death does wind up sapping the climax of some of its energy, as does the slightly too long final showdown. END SPOILERS.
One point of criticism is the film’s audio. Some dialogue is out of synch with the actors’ delivery, the sound cuts out abruptly between scenes and the sound effects don’t always embody the images they’re meant to represent. It’s unfortunate because these issues are significant enough that they distract from the viewing experience. Fingers crossed that Moore’s next feature can rectify this issue so that audiences can focus on his great characters and direction.
After Blessed Are The Children, I am eager to see where Moore goes next.
Blessed Are The Children plays Horror-on-Sea on Friday, Jan 19 and is currently available on DVD.