Blood Red Sky begins with a frame story — an aircraft makes a wobbly landing in Scotland as troops gather below — before introducing us to a mother and son preparing to travel from Germany to New York. She’s obviously gravely ill and hopes that a specialist in America can cure her. However, as anyone who’s seen the trailer or even read the movie’s ominous title can guess, this journey is going to get complicated. Horrifically complicated.
At two hours, Blood Red Sky is overly lengthy. This becomes more obvious as the movie drags on, but it doesn’t waste any time getting to its first big story beat, as hijackers take control of the plane and set it on a new path. The hijackers all kind of blend together, except for the hulking yet reasonable guy played by Legends of Tomorrow’s Dominic Purcell, and the “seriously, how did nobody vet this trigger-happy maniac?” guy played by veteran German actor Alexander Scheer.
Their criminal motivations are never quite explained, which is easy enough to let slide in the name of MacGuffin; really, they’re only part of the movie because we need a reason for Nadja (Peri Baumeister) to reveal the malady that’s inspired her to nervously board this overnight flight (a travel decision that’s reminiscent of Only Lovers Left Alive, a very different film in the same genre): she’s a vampire! Specifically, a self-loathing vampire who believes she’s evil. Though she craves blood as all vampires do, she’s determined not to pass that evil along to anyone else.
Since Nadja’s condition has been heavily foreshadowed, it’s exciting anticipating the moment when she’ll show her true face and start fighting back against well-armed thugs who aren’t just threatening the life of her son, Elias (Carl Anton Koch), but a plane full of innocent passengers. Those passengers include Farid (Kais Setti), a physicist who befriends Elias, and a few notables like a snobby arsehole who harasses the flight attendant. Most, though, are harder to distinguish — this is a jam-packed transatlantic flight, after all. Still, there’s a certain amount of class divide that emerges as chaos begins to build, similar to what happens when the zombie outbreak begins in Train to Busan.
While Blood Red Sky is clearly a vampire tale — we get the backstory on how Nadja became infected, and there’s the expected aversion to sunlight, the magical healing powers, the sprouting of fangs, etc. — at times it does have a zombie movie feel. Director Peter Thorwarth, who co-wrote with Stefan Holtz (the original idea came to Thorwarth while on an overnight flight from Europe to the U.S.) wisely makes use of every conceivable inch of the plane set, with the cockpit, the cargo hold, the various cabins, and even the bathrooms helping to make things feel appropriately claustrophobic — but not too limiting in terms of the amount of running, hiding, chasing, and brawling necessary to serve the story.
If all of this sounds potentially campy, it’s not; Blood Red Sky is played mostly straight, though there is one great moment when Farid points out that they can’t convey the real situation aboard to the waiting military on the ground, because, well, who’s gonna believe an explanation involving vampires? Most of the surprisingly serious tone comes courtesy of the relationship between Nadja and Elias; Baumeister gives a fierce, physical performance, but also manages to make sobbing while in full vampire make-up (blood-drenched, no hair, pointy ears, pointier teeth) feel genuinely moving. On the other hand, Elias is one of those child characters defined by his repeated inability to obey his mother and other adults (even in life-or-death situations when there are, like, trigger-happy hijackers and thirsty vampires running wild); this helps propel the plot but sure makes the kid come off as kinda bratty.
If Blood Red Sky sometimes gets too caught up in angst, at least it tries to make the viewer invested in Nadja’s plight. The movie also squeezes in a little commentary about xenophobia and racism when Farid and a handful of other passengers realise they’ve been singled out as scapegoats by the hijackers because they happen to be Arab and/or Muslim. (The fact that law enforcement immediately buys into this stereotype is both depressing and probably accurate.)
But mostly this is a creature feature through and through, bundled with a bit of wish-fulfillment — who among us wouldn’t want to suddenly reveal badass supernatural powers to a gang of ruthless hijackers, muggers, bullies, cat-callers, whoever — that unfortunately doesn’t lead to a completely satisfying outcome. It is, however, as grim and gory as a movie about vampires ripping out throats on a hijacked aeroplane ought to be.
Blood Red Sky arrives on Netflix July 23.