Weird Westerns: Blood Moon (2014)
A cowboy film shot in Kent, England, with a cast of UK actors shooting it out with each other and with a werewolf.
By Max Sparber
In general, English actors seem to be better at doing American accents than American actors are at doing English accents. So I can't say precisely when or why it occurred to me that almost every actor in 2014's "Blood Moon" was English.
But at some point, there was some idiosyncrasy of pronunciation, some strange performance decision, and suddenly all the actors seemed like English people with put-on accents. Maybe it was that, despite the film being set in Colorado, a lot of the performers chose to do hothouse Southern Gothic accents, when typical American actors almost unconsciously put on a movie cowboy accent — it's an almost lost accent now, and if I had to place it, I'd place it as being the product of the mix of Midwestern and Oakie accents that settled the San Fernando Valley after the Dust Bowl.
I'll probably do an essay one day on the movie cowboy accent, but, in general, in American cowboy movies, if somebody puts on a Georgia accent or the like, they're probably a dandy. Heck, even Texas accents are suspect, as demonstrated by the character Texas Ranger LaBoeuf in "True Grit," who is a braggart and at least half a dandy.
Anyway, I'm glad I figured out that "Blood Moon" is an English film, because first of all I find it delightful that a movie in which cowboys fight werewolves was made in England, and, secondly, because I was wondering about the set. When you watch enough cowboy movies, you see the same few backlots used over and over again, recognizable even when redecorated. But "Blood Moon" has a rickety, handpainted, mud-soaked set I have never seen before, and it is terrific looking, and, as it turns out, it is in Kent.
I am going to have to talk about the movie at some point, but the set is so interesting that I can't help but start with it. It's called Laredo, and wasn't built as a movie set, but instead as a secret, private, members-only Western club in in the Kent countryside of England. It was built by Western hobbyists, who use it every other weekend to reenact Western life.
If you have a Western set, somebody will show up sooner or later and want to make a Western movie — I'm temped to build one, but Minnesota doesn't have that big a film industry, and the Kentish hobbyists pay for the village's upkeep out of their own pockets. Nonetheless, one day writer Alan Wightman, who mostly writes for television comedies, and director Jeremy Wooding, who had previously had helmed a remake of "The Magnificent Seven" about soccer, showed up to make a werewolf movie.
The film is all right, mostly. It benefits from Wightman's comedy background, especially in the first half; we get amusing introductions to most of the characters, including several lawmen, two scoundrel bank robbers, and a mysterious cowboy. When a banker tells a lawman that one of the bank robbers was named Jeb, the lawman doesn't seem particularly impressed, responding that almost everybody they know is named Jeb. There are little comic grace notes like this throughout, little moments of Western absurdity, and they are welcome.
The cast is uniformly quite good, mostly played by longtime British characters actors, with the bank robbers (Raffaello Degruttola and Corey Johnson) surly and unpleasant, the good guys (George Blagden as a lawman and Shaun Dooley as the mysterious cowboy) ambiguous, and the women (Amber Jean Rowan and Anna Skellern) scrappy. The movie includes a few Native American characters, and seems to borrow from the Navajo story of the skin-walker, but probably shouldn't have.
The film's monster is a werewolf, not a skin-walker, which the Navajo haven't taken great pain to explain but seems to be a witch that takes animal form to commit murder. Moreover, the Navajo are largely southwestern, and I never feel right about just grabbing one tribe's myths and relocating it across the country: Colorado has Cheyenne and Ute Indians, both of whom have their own stories, like the Axxea, a lake monster the Cheyenne thought ate people. I have yet to see a film about an Axxea, but perhaps "Blood Moon" already had a werewolf costume.
Additionally, the film casts an actress of Japanese heritage as a Native American, and I realize Indian actors are probably not that common in Kent, but if you're going to commit to a Native character, commit to the budget to find a Native actor. The performer, Eleanor Matsuura, is a good one (she's now part of the DC universe as Wonder Woman's Amazonian healer Epione), but isn't Native.
In truth, the werewolf and cod-Indian legend associated with it are the least interesting things about the film. The monster just sort of lurks around, occasionally sticking an arm through the window, but it's mostly there to goose the conflict between the bank robbers and everyone else, who they have taken hostage. The conflict is pretty enjoyable but poorly explained — our villains kill a preacher and then tie up everyone else, even though the preacher is less dangerous than literally everybody else. It's not all that clear what the villains are planning, and, truthfully, if you get enough frontier types in a room for long enough, eventually they are likely to get free and start shooting, so the whole undertaking just seems like bad planning.
Still, questionable plotting aside, the filmmakers were right that having the two sides square off while a werewolf occasionally attacks them is pretty entertaining, and the film has a few enjoyable turns as a result.
But, honestly, I mostly enjoyed looking at the set. These Kentish cowboys, I'll tell you, I just shake my head at what they have accomplished. In fact, I am going to go ahead and create a rule of Weird Westerns that I call the Laredo in Kent test, it is as follows, and the film does not pass the test.
This is the Laredo in Kent test: Is your monster more interesting than your set?