Review: ‘Kicking Blood,’ starring Alanna Bale and Luke Bilyk

April 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Alanna Bale and Luke Bilyk in “Kicking Blood” (Photo courtesy of XYZ Films)

“Kicking Blood”

Directed by Blaine Thurier

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Canadian city of Sudbury, Ontario, the horror film “Kicking Blood” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A female vampire becomes romantically involved with an alcoholic man, and she has inner conflicts over whether or not she should continue to hunt humans for their blood.

Culture Audience: “Kicking Blood” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in vampire movies, no matter how dull and misguided the movies are.

Ella Jonas Farlinger and Benjamin Sutherland in “Kicking Blood” (Photo courtesy of XYZ Films)

“Kicking Blood” tries to draw parallels between alcoholism and a vampire’s lust for blood, but this boring horror flick fails miserably as a scary movie and as an intended love story. Everything about “Kicking Blood” is done in such a half-baked and muddled way, it looks like the filmmakers and the cast members were confused about what type of movie they were really trying to do. The movie’s hackneyed screenplay, below-average acting and amateurish editing further sink “Kicking Blood” into the abyss where bad horror movies go and are quickly forgotten by anyone who had the misfortune of watching them.

Blaine Thurier directed “Kicking Blood” from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Leonard Farlinger. Overall, it’s supposed to be a horror movie, but there are no real scares. “Kicking Blood” tries to be a satire, but there’s nothing funny in the movie. It also wants to be a romance, but the central couple in the movie has no real passion or chemistry together. The entire movie plays out like a series of scenes that came from a sloppily conceived screenplay draft.

All of the movie’s characters are drab, with very little charm or appeal. “Kicking Blood” desperately wants viewers to root for the two main characters to get together as a romantic couple, but the entire movie does not answer these questions: “Why should these two egomaniacs be together in a dysfunctional relationship? Why should we care? Why was this movie even made?” The atrocious ending of “Kicking Blood” completely destroys the entire premise of what makes a vampire.

In the Canadian film “Kicking Blood,” a vampire named Anna (played by Alanna Bale) is leading a double life. By day, she’s a mild-mannered librarian in Sudbury, Ontario. By night, she’s a blood-sucking predator who’s always on the lookout for more human victims. Anna isn’t just part of the undead because she’s a vampire. She has a very dead personality too. In addition, viewers find out very little information about her background during the entire movie.

The movie gives a not-very-convincing explanation that Anna is able to function during the day, as long as she avoids sunlight. There’s a couple of scenes where Anna moves away from a window where sunlight is coming in through the window. However, the movie never explains what Anna does when she has to walk outside in the sunlight, which is inevitable since she has a day job and has to go to and from the building at some point. Unless she’s wearing a hazmat suit (which she does not do), some part of her skin is supposed to get burned by the sunlight.

“Kicking Blood” has a completely useless subplot about Anna’s library co-worker Bernice (played by Rosemary Dunsmore), an elderly woman who is Anna’s work friend and has several scenes in the movie. In the beginning of “Kicking Blood,” Anna witnesses a tension-filled conversation between Bernice and another co-worker named Gerry (played by Shaun Austin-Olsen), who’s about the same age as Bernice.

Gerry is giving Bernice a somewhat rude brushoff because he ended their recent fling, and her feelings are hurt. “You told me you loved me!” Bernice wails. Gerry replies haughtily, “It’s an expression, Bernice.” Before she storms off, Bernice then bitterly hisses at Gerry, “Go to hell!”

The next thing you know, Anna has shown up unannounced at Gerry’s home, where he finds her lounging on his living room couch. This movie is so badly written, Gerry doesn’t seem concerned or curious to find out how Anna got into his home without his knowledge. All Gerry seems to care about is that Anna took up his offer to come over to his place for a drink.

Because Anna is a vampire, Gerry finds out the hard way that the drink Anna really wants is blood from his neck. “This is for Bernice,” Anna smirks as she grabs Gerry by the neck to feed on his blood. Throughout the movie, Anna’s targets for bloodsucking are men who behave badly. If it’s supposed to make Anna look like some kind of feminist, “Kicking Blood” pathetically misses the mark.

That’s because the “bad boy” whom Anna spares from becoming her next victim—because the movie has her fall in love with him—is an alcoholic loser who’s awful to almost everyone around him. His name is Robbie (played by Luke Bilyk), who is the epitome of being a toxic train wreck. “Kicking Blood” doesn’t give very many reasons to root for Robbie and Anna to become a couple. Separately and together, Anna and Robbie are just a mess with no charm or redeeming qualities.

Viewers first see Robbie waking up on his sister’s couch after a night of drunken partying. The place is in shambles, with empty liquor bottles everywhere. Robbie has been temporarily living with his sister Angela (played by Telysa Chandler), and he is clearly an inconsiderate house guest. Robbie is woken up by Angela, who is pregnant and furious with Robbie. And it’s not just because of his partying that’s left her home in disarray.

Angela reminds Robbie that at this party, Robbie had a kissing makeout session with Angela’s fiancé, who is not seen in the movie. Robbie was so drunk that he only has a vague recollection of this loathsome betrayal, but he thinks it’s kind of funny. Angela isn’t amused at all, and she tells Robbie he can no longer stay at her place, effective immediately. It’s mentioned in this scene that Robbie has been in rehab before, but he’s obviously relapsed.

Robbie is next seen loitering in an alley at night because he’s now homeless. And guess who just happens to walk right past him? It’s Anna, probably on her way to find her next victim. This is the terribly written “meet cute” moment in the movie: As she walks past Robbie, he yells out to her: “Where do we go when we die?”

Anna stops and replies, “I have no idea.” Robbie then tells Anna, “I think it’s time for me to end it”—as in commit suicide. Anna seems unbothered by this confession and says flippantly, “Do it then.” Then she adds sarcastically, “I absolve you of your sins.”

Because this physically attractive woman is paying attention to him, Robbie suddenly doesn’t have “suicidal thoughts” anymore. He tries to flirt with her and asks Anna, “What are you doing tonight?” Anna says, “I don’t know.” Robbie replies, “Sounds fun. Can I come?” Anna nonchalantly replies, “Up to you.”

And then, Robbie follows her and ends up staying at her place, but they don’t hook up right away. As Anna crudely puts it: “I don’t fuck humans.” This is the kind of junk dialogue that litters the entire movie. There’s nothing funny or interesting about anything these characters have to say to each other, even though it’s obvious that the filmmakers want to bring dark comedy elements to “Kicking Blood.”

Anna quickly finds out that Robbie is an alcoholic when their first date takes place in a bar. Robbie just as quickly finds out that Anna doesn’t drink alcohol. For much of the movie, Anna treats Robbie as a house guest she’s reluctantly allowed to stay at her place. It’s pretty obvious though that she has feelings for him because she never bites him to get his blood. She comes close to sucking the blood out of him, but she changes her mind.

Even though Anna comes right out and tells Robbie that she’s a vampire, he doesn’t quite believe her. He just thinks she’s a wild eccentric who drinks blood and has convinced herself that she’s a vampire. Robbie doesn’t actually think that Anna has vampire characteristics, such as never outwardly aging or never needing to eat food. By the way, “Kicking Blood” doesn’t say how long Anna has been a vampire, which is one of many examples of how the character’s backstory is non-existent.

Anna has two vampire friends who often hunt humans with her. Their names are Boris (played by Benjamin Sutherland) and Nina (played by Ella Jonas Farlinger), who are the very bland “villains” of the story. Boris and Nina can’t understand why Anna hasn’t made Robbie one of her victims. They think that Anna is going “soft” because Boris and Nina have a lot of contempt for humans.

Meanwhile, Robbie has an ex-fling named Vanessa (played by Vinessa Antoine), who has lingering feelings for Robbie and tries not to let it show to him that she’s kind of jealous that he’s met someone new. Robbie has definitely put Vanessa in the “friend zone,” but she keeps dropping hints that she wants to rekindle whatever relationship that they had. When Vanessa finds out that Robbie doesn’t have a permanent home, she goes as far as telling Robbie that he’s welcome to stay at her place. It’s a very weak attempt by “Kicking Blood” to introduce some sort of love triangle.

“Kicking Blood” gets its title from the part of the story where Anna decides that she could stop being a vampire and turn back into a regular human being if she abstains from drinking blood. And it’s around the same time that Robbie decides to kick his addiction to alcohol. There’s an unnecessary plot development where Anna’s library co-worker Bernice announces that she stopped her habit of popping pills, so she’s on this self-rehab journey too.

What does all of this mean for “Kicking Blood”? Nothing except a lot of tedious scenes where Anna is torn between continuing her vampire lifestyle with Boris and Nina, or starting a new life with Robbie as they try to kick their “addictions” together. It’s a fairly good concept, but it’s bungled badly in “Kicking Blood,” which has a ridiculous and horribly edited showdown near the end of the movie. It’s ironic that this shoddily made vampire film sucks all the life out of what could have been an intriguing story.

XYZ Films released “Kicking Blood” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 31, 2022. The movie is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on May 17, 2022.

Review: ‘Dark Web: Cicada 3301,’ starring Jack Kesy, Conor Leslie and Alan Ritchson

April 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ron Funches, Conor Leslie and Jack Kesy in “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Dark Web: Cicada 3301”

Directed by Alan Ritchson

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed North American city, the action comedy film “Dark Web: Cicada 3301″ features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans and a few Asians) representing the middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A bartender who’s a secret computer hacker uncovers a Dark Web secret society of rich criminals called Cicada 3301 and is pressured by law enforcement to infiltrate this secret society.

Culture Audience: “Dark Web: Cicada 3301″ will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a painfully unfunny film that struggles to find anything resembling a coherent plot.

Alan Ritchson, Andreas Apergis and Jack Kesy in “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Just like the title of this movie, the action comedy film “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” is vapid and badly conceived. It tries desperately to be a wacky caper film, but the movie’s convoluted plot is filled with cheesy comedy that includes a homophobic fixation on depicting gay male sexuality as something to shamefully ridicule. Almost all of the characters in this movie are unappealing. Good luck to anyone who wastes time watching this incoherent drivel until the very end. Even the movie’s mid-credits scene looks like a throwaway.

Directed by Alan Ritchson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joshua Montcalm, “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” has a misguided concept that can be described as “Mr. Robot” meets “National Treasure” meets an “Austin Powers” movie. The protagonist of “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” is a computer hacker who’s a loner, but he goes on a treasure hunt as a wisecracking spy for the government. It’s even more cringeworthy than it sounds. At 105 minutes, “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” feels like much longer, as viewers have to watch a lot of nonsense, and most of it still won’t make much sense by the end of the movie.

“Dark Web: Cicada 3301” takes place in an unnamed North American city. The movie was filmed in Canada and has a mixture of American and Canadian actors, but nothing in the movie looks specific to the U.S. or Canada. The name of the federal agency that the law enforcement people work for is also left out of the movie. There’s a lot of things in “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” that are purposely vague, mostly due to terrible screenwriting and direction.

“Dark Web: Cicada 3301” opens with a scene of Connor Black (played by Jack Kesy) in a castle, pointing a gun at someone in a study room, uploading something on a computer in the room, and then destroying the computer. Connor then climbs out the window and over a wall. Suddenly, there’s an explosion that hurls Connor backward. It’s a scene that the movie circles back to later on, to explain how Connor got into this situation.

As the movie shows Connor falling in slow motion, he’s heard commenting in a voiceover: “Believe it or not, I’m falling through the sky like an apple over Newton’s head. Things have been a little fuzzy ever since.” It’s one of the many examples of how tonally off-kilter this movie is. “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” is a mindless action flick, but it also makes these pseudo-intellectual references where people have to know that Isaac Newton is being referenced in this bizarre attempt at a joke.

Throughout the movie, it becomes apparent that the filmmakers of “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” couldn’t seem to make up their minds about what type of audience they want for this movie: Is it the people who like the complex and edgy hacker drama of “Mr. Robot”? Is it the people who like artifact-finding adventures like “National Treasure”? Or is it the people who like deliberately zany spy comedies like “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery”?

There is some overlap in these audiences, but not much. And the result is that “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” is a tonal mess. Connor Black is written as a strange amalgamation of all three male protagonists in “Mr. Robot,” “National Treasure” and “Austin Powers.” It’s no wonder that Connor is as annoying and confused as he is throughout the movie.

Early on in the movie, it’s shown that Connor is now a prisoner who is testifying on his behalf at a judge’s hearing. The “adventure” scenes of the movie are really supposed to be what happened that led up to Connor being arrested. This movie is so badly made that this scene doesn’t look like it was filmed in a courtroom. It looks like it was filmed in a library or a university meeting room with three tables placed in the room.

At the “defense” table is Connor, who is in a prisoner’s uniform, with his hands and feet cuffed in chains. And he doesn’t have a lawyer with him. Sitting at the “prosecution” table are five men: two attorneys (the one who speaks is played by Joe Bostick) representing the prosecution, as well as the three government agents who offered $5 million to Connor to find a darknet secret society called Cicada 3301. The government agents are leader Mike Croft (played by Al Sapienza), Agent Carver (played by “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” director Ritchson) and Agent Sullivan (played by Andreas Apergis), who all have contempt for Connor.

Sitting at the third table that faces the other two tables is a panel of three judges: Judge Mary Collins (played by Victoria Snow), who does most of the talking; Judge Walters (played by Rothaford Gray); and Judge Bates (played by Marvin Karon). The judges ask Connor to tell his side of the story, which leads to the flashback scenes in the movie. During his “testimony” Connor is very rude to the agents, and he often gets up from the table in a disruptive manner. Connor and the agents also frequently interrupt each other.

Connor sometimes distorts the details in his “testimony,” by telling lies that Agent Carver is a closeted and horny gay man who’s attracted to Connor. For example, there’s a “fantasy” scene from Connor’s imagination where Agent Carter sexually licks Connor on the face. And in another “fantasy” scene, Agent Carter has a dildo strapped on his head after being in an “orgy room” with another man.

Telling these fabrications is Connor’s way of trying to humiliate Agent Carver, who gets upset every time Connor creates a false story about Agent Carter trying to seduce Connor and other men. These fantasies are depicted in the movie for laughs, but it’s not funny to use real or perceived homosexuality as a way to shame someone. “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” over-relies on these so-called “gay jokes” to the point where viewers have to wonder what kind of bigoted hangups these filmmakers have about gay men.

Connor is portrayed as a stereotypical arrogant jerk whom the filmmakers want audiences to think is what you’re supposed to be if you’re a wisecracking, “no filter” action hero. He’s a bachelor in his early 30s who lives alone and works as a bartender. But he’s also a computer whiz who has a photographic memory. And when the government recruits a reluctant Connor to be a spy, he suddenly has combat skills that aren’t really explained in the movie.

“Dark Web: Cicada 3301” uses an annoying visual technique of showing numbers and images on screen, to depict how Connor’s photographic memory works in his brain. The movie never explains why Connor is a bartender instead of working in a computer-related job. Maybe it’s to set up this clumsy plot development in the beginning of the story where Connor starts looking for Cicada 3301. He’s enlisted to be a government spy when government officials find out that he’s close to discovering Cicada 3301, and they want Connor to lead the government to this secret society.

Twenty-nine days before he’s shown falling out from a castle ledge, Connor is at the restaurant/bar where he works. He sees a rude customer give Connor’s waitress co-worker Lori (played by Linnea Currie-Roberts) a measly 50 cents as a tip for serving about three or four people. Before the customer leaves with his dinner companions, Connor steps in and confronts the customer about the insulting tip.

The customer, whose name is William J. Edwards III (played by Benjamin Sutherland), is unapologetic and angrily flicks a lit cigarette at Connor. This triggers Connor to a childhood memory of his abusive father (played by Patrick Garrow) flicking a lit cigarette at him. The movie has more of these flashback memories of Connor’s troubled relationship with his father. (Tomaso Sanelli portrays Connor as a child.) Connor responds to the cigarette-throwing, stingy customer by getting into a fist fight with him.

Later, when he’s at home in his dingy apartment and nursing his bruised knuckles, Connor decides to get revenge on William, the customer he fought with in the bar. Connor remembers William’s full name and goes on his desktop computer to log on to the Dark Web. Connor hacks into William’s Bitcoin and credit card accounts to mess up his credit, and he sends a computer virus to William’s email.

While surfing the Dark Web, Connor stumbles onto mysterious files from an entity calling itself Cicada 3301 that promises a huge treasure worth a fortune, for people who can crack Cicada 3301’s puzzle codes and clues that will lead to the treasure. The group’s logo is a cicada. And it’s implied that whatever “treasure” is being offered is illegal.

Connor is intrigued, but his first attempt at solving a Cicada 3301 puzzle results in him getting a message from Cicada 3301 telling him that he failed the test because he’s not smart enough. This insult causes Connor to get so angry that he smashes a beer bottle, but some of the beer spills onto the computer tower and short-circuits the hard drive. Connor is now more determined than ever to find out who’s behind Cicada 3301 and how to get some of the promised treasure.

Connor needs the money because he’s very close to being evicted from his apartment. Connor has already been served an eviction notice. His deaf landlord Mr. Costa (played by Anselmo DeSousa) threatens to change the apartment’s locks if Connor doesn’t come up with the money. Connor promises that he will have the money by the next day, but even the landlord know that’s a lie.

Connor seems to be fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), because he understands everything that Mr. Costa is saying just through hand signs. (The words hover over Mr. Costa’s head instead of appearing on screen as regular captions.) It’s never explained how or why Connor as ASL communication skills, just like it’s never explained why Connor works in a low-paying bartender job, even though he has advanced-level computer information technology skills.

Because the story in “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” is so jumbled, it throws in a precocious, foul-mouthed kid, and then makes this character disappear for no good reason. She’s a 10-year-old named Sophia (played by Alyssa Cheatham), who lives in the same apartment building as Connor. Sophia is first seen in the movie cursing out Connor for being late with his rent. It’s mentioned later in the movie that Sophia has a single mother (played by Quancetia Hamilton), who spends long hours working away from home. Therefore, Sophie and Connor hang out together a lot, with Connor as Sophia’s unofficial babysitter.

Connor seems to be aware of how odd it might look for a man his age to be spending so much time with a girl who’s not a family member. And so, when he and Sophia go to the library to do some research, there are some moronic jokes made about pedophilia. Connor doesn’t have the money to fix his computer, so he has to use Sophia’s computer or a computer at the library.

While at the library, he meets a sarcastic and pretty library assistant in her 20s named Gwen (played by Conor Leslie), who predictably ends up helping him with this Cicada 3301 hunt. Gwen becomes Connor’s more level-headed sidekick/accomplice. Gwen and Connor have the type of sexual-tension banter that indicates he’s very attracted to her.

But Gwen plays guessing games with Connor about her sexuality. In one scene, Gwen tells Connor that she’s a lesbian. In another scene, Gwen kisses Connor in a romantic way. In another scene, she tells him that she “goes both ways.” In other words, she’s bisexual or queer.

“Cicada 3301” is annoyingly preoccupied with portraying queerness as something to be ridiculed or used as a a homophobic punchline. The third member of this “National Treasure” wannabe trio is Connor’s best friend Avi (played by Ron Funches), who needs a lot of convincing to go on this Cicada 3301 treasure hunt. Avi is used later in the story as sexual bait to flirt with a museum front-desk attendant who’s openly gay, so that Connor and Gwen can sneak into the museum’s book archives while Avi serves as a distraction. All the stereotypical over-the-top gay male mannerisms are used in this scene, such as high-pitched squeals and hand fluttering.

Avi is a college professor of art history who becomes Connor’s reluctant recruit to help solve Cicada 3301’s puzzles, which require extensive knowledge of art history. Avi, who likes to wear bow ties and blazers, is the type of eccentric whose idea of fun is to play chess with old men in a park. Funches portrays Avi as someone with flamboyance and of vague sexuality, although Avi seems to be initially attracted to Gwen. Toward the end of the movie, Avi gets a female love interest named Shauna (played by Jess Salgueiro), whose presence is almost like an afterthought, as if to let viewers know that Avi really isn’t gay.

Avi likes to make cupcakes, and the movie depicts Avi’s interest in cupcakes as “effeminate.” Avi also has the role of the high-maintenance “scaredy cat”/worrier of this Cicada 3301-hunting trio. It’s just another reason for Avi to have more diva-like posturing in the movie, to try to make him the frequent butt of the movie’s not-very-funny jokes.

A lot of the movie consists of Connor, Gwen and Avi gathering clues and solving puzzles. There’s some gibberish about William Blake art, as well as clues that suggest that Cicada 3301 is an Illumniati-type of group. In one preposterous scene, Cicada 3301 has rigged an entire set of street lights to blink out a message in Morse code. Connor conveniently knows Morse Code, so he deciphers the message.

And Connor has some visions that often don’t make any sense. In one of these visions, his 10-year-old neighbor Sophia is seen being taken out of her home on a gurney, with a sheet over her body, as if she’s dead. Her mother is shown wailing next to the gurney. Sophia is never seen in the movie again, nor is it ever explained why Connor had that vision. That gives you an idea how sloppy this movie’s screenplay is.

Connor, Gwen and Avi go through some more shenanigans that eventually lead them to a castle, where Cicada 3301 is having an orgy party that’s trying to go for an “Eyes Wide Shut” masquerade vibe. It goes without saying that there are people in this movie who wear animal masks—and not because it’s Halloween. There’s someone at the party named Phillip Dubois (played by Kris Holden-Ried), whose purpose in the movie is exactly what you think it is. And there are a few twists toward the end of the film that aren’t very clever and aren’t much of a surprise.

The cast members’ performances, which are mediocre, aren’t the main problem in this shoddily made film. The screenplay and direction are the weakest links. At one point in the movie, Gwen says to Connor: “Are you always this grating? It’s like living sandpaper, man!” Ironically, that’s a perfect description for “Dark Web: Cicada 3301.”

Lionsgate released “Dark Web: Cicada 3301” on digital and VOD on March 12, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on March 16, 2021.

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