ANALYSIS: The Return of The Creature Feature, The Monstrous Feminine and The Final Boy in BLOOD RED SKY (2021)

Spoilers

Netflix’s latest horror Blood Red Sky, directed by Peter Thorwarth, follows protagonist Nadja (Peri Baumeister) and her young son Elias (Carl Anton Koch). Nadja suffers from a mysterious illness and needs to travel from Germany to America to find a cure. The film implies that she suffers from Leukaemia as she wears a wig to cover her baldness and injects some form of medication to keep herself in good health. Unfortunately for Nadja and Elias, the plane they board gets taken over by terrorists.

Although at first this appears to be just another hijacking film things take an unexpected turn, essentially becoming Snakes on a Plane (2006) with a twist: the condition Nadja’s suffering with is in fact vampirism. And whilst this sounds quirky, the film uses this as a launchpad for numerous, interesting discourses.

The Monstrous Feminine

In the film we see the monstrous feminine trope in full effect. Barbara Creed states that women in horror are often portrayed as monsters, and this is literally true of Nadja: her appearance is revealed to be Nosferatu-esque – with a bald pate and long fangs – paying homage to the German expressionist film by F. W. Murnau.

Although Nadja is physically portrayed as monstrous, she tries to supress her “monstrousness” several times. One example is when she first transitioed into a vampire after being attacked by one, she ripped her fangs out and wore dentures to hide the missing teeth. Later Nadja only releases her full monstrousness to deter the hijackers, namely Robert / Eightball (Alexander Scheer) when he threatens to kill a little girl. One could say that Nadja’s motherly instincts influenced her to unleash her monstrosity, and by the end not only is Nadja the monstrous feminine but she has also become a monstrous mother: having lost all control of her innate brutality she goes to attack Elias, who presses the detonator to blow up the plane and kill the vampires, including his mother.

Vampirism and Return to Creature Features

The vampirism of Blood Red Sky is an enthralling concept, as not only does the film return to traditional vampire horror but it also reinvents the creature feature film for a modern setting.

Creature features typically include vampires, mermaids, werewolves, Frankenstein monsters, and ghouls (like Hammer Horror films from 1950s-1970s). The updating of the Vampirism trope here was innovative in reflecting our current fears of the Covid-19 pandemic: when Eightball steals Nadja’s blood and injects it into himself he becomes a vampire and attacks other people and – before we know it – all passengers on board become infected. This is analogous of the rise in Covid-19 cases, the disease spreading from person to person. The fact that everyone was confined on a plane also compares to the restrictions many have endured during Covid, with people stuck indoors and tackling our mental health as well as our loss of agency in the several lockdowns.

In some ways, we see the same thing happen here: there is absolutely no escape for the passengers from not only the terrorists but the vampires too. In the end, all is lost as every passenger gets bitten and turns into agentless creatures, all destined to die when the plane is set aflame.

The Brutality of Humans

Although the film is about a vampire it can be questioned who the true antagonist is. Arguably it’s not Nadja, as she was the victim of a brutal vampire attack that she could not help. However the terrorists who hijacked the plane are perhaps the true evil here, via their own decisions. The co-pilot Bastian (Kai Ivo Baulitz) planned the hijacking with the terrorist group and allowed the plot to go forward when he poisoned the pilot, essentially making him responsible for the massacre at the end. This could reflect the corruption of some government officials in society and also subtlety refer to conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 being “an inside job”. Many people do not trust the government, and the narrative here certainly reflects that.

Not only are the terrorists evil in their actions, but they also blame the Muslim passengers: having selected three passengers based on their Muslim faith – including one of the film’s final boys, Farid (Kais Setti) – they make them read a script saying that they are hijacking the plane in the name of Islam. White men then were responsible, but Muslims were blamed, reflecting real-world issues of Islamophobia and the resurgence of the far right.

The character Eightball is also responsible for much of the atrocity that occurs on the plane. An article on Screen Rant compares him to The Joker from Batman, and rightfully so: he is a psychopath, disliked by members of his own terrorist organisation as his views are seen as too extreme: he shoots Nadja when she moves from her seat to find Elias after the initial hijacking; he kills other members of the cabin crew and seems to enjoy doing it; and he also threatens to kill a little girl to get the pilot’s door open. Not only are his actions truly evil, but he is also so psychotic, stealing Nadja’s blood and injecting it into himself before becoming driven by rage and anger as he ravages through the passengers, killing them all and consequently turning everyone. His motivations for wanting to be a vampire remain unknown, though this unknowability is important, contrasting with any kind of rational reason: he has no love for humanity, no love for anyone in his terrorist team, and is all out for himself.

The brutality of humans is also shown by a greedy passenger who only cares about his stocks and shares: he too bears responsibility for the carnage when he opens a door for the newly-turned Eightball and his henchmen of vampires, letting them in. Because of his wealth he assumed that he could buy them off, seemingly unable to realise that money can’t always save you. He is killed anyway, the creatures then massacring everyone else: in essence, human greed gets everybody killed, and – just like in Scooby Doo – the monster is too often human.

The Final Boy

In 1992 Carol J. Clover coined the term “The Final Girl”, where a female is the only survivor (notable examples being Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alien, and Halloween).  However in Blood Red Sky this trope is inverted as two final boys survive the vampire massacre: Elias and Farid. Even better in this revolutionary twist is that one is a child (who are usually powerless) and the other a man of colour (who faces discrimination and persecution). Here the film gives power to the powerless.

What is more terrifying about the ending is that Elias has to be the one to kill his mother, as she was completely out of control. Blood becomes a drug to her, and once she gets a taste she becomes consumed in a downward spiral: a ravenous, rage-filled creature, willing to kill her own son.

Closing thoughts

Overall, Blood Red Sky is an innovative take on the creature feature, introducing audiences to a new horror fusion as the characters have to deal with the terror of being confined with both terrorists and vampires.

If Nadja had reached America and had “treatment” would she have been cured? Or would she still one day succumb to the innate barbarism living within her? Perhaps she had to die that day so that humans – who she could have potentially attacked if the plane had landed – could survive many more. In any event director Thorwarth has delivered a thrilling revamp of classic tropes that take on monstrosity, gender and the creatures living within us all.

Lakkaya Palmer

Further Reading

  • Barbara Creed, The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge, 1993.
  • Carol J Clover, Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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