As a collective whole, the cast of Power Rangers RPM is undoubtedly one of the most talented ensembles ever to be squeezed into butt-hugging spandex. From Eka Darville’s recurring stint on shows like “Empire” and “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” to Rose McIver’s starring role as the title hero in “iZombie”, this bunch has talent for days. It was this thought that took me into Blood Punch, the decidedly not-suitable-for-Nickelodeon horror comedy about a love triangle gone cray-cray in the woods.
Filled to the brim with RPM alums, would my affection for these young adults with attitude be affirmed through this twisted affair, or would it prove to be, as with the film’s central characters, a seemingly endless nightmare? Climb aboard the dimension-hopping train as we chug along through a spoiler-filled review, and pray that our sanity doesn’t get off at the wrong stop.
When I mention those RPM connections, I’m really not kidding. Not only are we treated to castmembers who played heroes and villains alike, but the film is written by RPM showrunner Eddie Guzelian (a fact I was unaware of until the end credits) and directed by Madellaine Paxson, who herself penned the episodes “Ranger Blue” and “Prisoners”. Ranger alums congregating for a feature project is nothing new, but it’s certainly the highest concentration of talent gathered from a single season up to the point of its release. And what luck, I actually loved all their work unironically!
Our story featuring children’s TV castmembers begins in rehab (where else?), where struggling college student Milton (Milo Cawthorne) is distracted by the alarmingly blunt new girl sitting in on his regular meetings with a group of addicts. After lighting a ciggy and cussing out the whole room, she just outright states that she’s looking for someone to cook a truckload of crystal meth for her. And, because I wasn’t already having “Breaking Bad” flashbacks, she’s introduced with the name Skyler (Olivia Tennet).
Being the rational guy we soon learn he is, Milton immediately sleeps with Skyler and agrees to help, only to discover post-coitus that he has just bumped uglies with a taken woman. Enter Skyler’s crazy partner-in-crime Russell (Ari Boyland), who appears in a bewildering police uniform after apparently killing the heck out of at least one poor dude at the facility before retrieving the duo. What has Milton gotten himself into?
The bulk of the story takes place at a cabin in the woods built upon sacred Native American land where nothing bad ever happens in any movie, especially in the horror genre. Despite his homicidal tendencies, Russell proves he’s not such a bad guy by assuring Milt that it’s okay that he and Skyler made whoopee. This was all part of the plan to manipulate him into helping, so it’s cool! But Milton is not permitted, under any circumstances, to fall in love with his girl. It seems Russell is a bit late with that warning, because in the long five seconds of knowing her, our intrepid meth cook is smitten with the enigmatic chain-smoker. During a night of drug-addled bonding, Milt learns about the history of these strange lands. The whole area was cursed back in olden times after a huge battle that seemed to go on for days, leaving only one survivor. Gee, I wonder if this random story, complete with hallucinated flashback animation, will become a centerpiece of the plot going forward?
Milton experiences a Movie Awakening, in which he quickly sits upright, disoriented about what may or may not have happened in the hours prior. Between turns on the merry-go-round of mental and psychological abuse that Russell forced Skyler into without resistance, he’s found the time to meddle in Milton’s activity. They meet downstairs, where the previously-believed-kinda-dumb Russell seems to know absolutely everything about Milton’s science-y meth work and decides to cut his losses and just kill Milton now. Before Milt can have his WTF-face shot off, Skyler enters, just in time to reveal that she’s already removed the bullets from Russell’s gun, as his psychotic ways have finally gotten old even for her.
Before they know it, the three are fighting for their lives and the struggle concludes with an arrow stuck through Russell’s back. As darkness falls over Russell’s body, he rudely interrupts Milton while trying to bury him, demanding that Milton ask Skyler how he could possibly know about all that science-y stuff when he was normally such a dunce. Good question, Milt. Better shovel more dirt onto the dying man and hurry off to sleep so it won’t bother you later. Sadly, it takes Milton a while to catch onto what’s happening, as he has another Movie Awakening. The same Movie Awakening, in fact, that he’d experienced the previous morning. In the same spot. Wearing the same clothes… WAIT A MINUTE!
After being greeted by an extremely living Russell, exactly like the morning before, Milt finds himself rushing down to the burial site, shocked to find that Russell’s body remains lifeless, right where he’d left it. But if Russell’s still taking a dirt nap, who’s in the cabin shouting obscenities at poor, messed-up Skyler right now? Bill Murray never had to deal with clones when they did this plot with him!
And so begins a long and bloody gauntlet, in which the heroic Milton and his darling Skyler attempt, ad nauseam, to murder her beau in increasingly gross ways over the course of a good 45 minutes, scrambling as they go to figure out why the day keeps resetting after each traumatizing turn. I especially enjoy the one with the meat cleaver, tossed casually past his throat without looking from across the room, in the middle of a conversation.
It’s interesting to watch Milton’s slow transition from wide-eyed concern over his situation to desensitized boredom at having to blow Russell up with grenades or brain him with a baseball bat. Despite his background, Milton’s not the sharpest of tools, and we did meet him at a point where he had been trying to get help for his issues. A never-ending killfest is probably going to set back his recovery a bit. Even after trying to leave this place, he just wakes up again in the same spot, back in the cabin with Skyler.
Finally, it hits him. This place was cursed after a bloody battle in which there was only one survivor. Even if they keep killing Russell, filling up a pit with his many bodies as they try a thousand different ways to loop a hole out of this scenario, they’ll be no closer to escaping, because Russell alone just isn’t enough. This tale didn’t end last time until all but one was killed. No matter what, poor Milton won’t get the girl, because one of them has to die so the other can live.
Now, you’d think that his choice is pretty clear here. Especially after Skyler takes him deeper into the woods to show him a whole field full of Milton corpses, proving that, in addition to super-killing Russell with him, she’s also been super-killing Milton with Russell too. He just didn’t realize it because his memory always dies with the rest of him and then he wakes up fresh, like it never happened. Alas, young Milt still has a thing or two left to learn.
Skyler’s told him that her feelings have changed and she really does want to be with him, and maybe this is an opportunity for them as a couple. They can just live in the cabin, under a weirdly specific curse that gives them new food and supplies every morning but copies their dead selves into extra living bodies with which to eat, drink, and bang as eternal millennials… K.
Somewhere around here, there’s a plot about Skyler attempting to meet with Russell’s old contacts and sell the drugs they’d been cooking, but honestly, this is where the movie starts getting a little long for me, and I start wondering about random things. Like, if there’s an afterlife, right, with pearly gates and clouds and stuff, does that mean that there’s seven dozen Russells floating around heaven right now because they keep killing him? Do they gather together to welcome their new brother to the fold every time the day resets? I guess he probably wouldn’t be in the “pearly gates” aisle anyway, but by this point in my musings, I’m distracted by the sudden appearance of Nabiki (Adelaide Kane) as one of the cranky goons Skyler and Milton attempt to sell the meth to.
After blithely implying they’ve shared a sexy backstory, to Nabiki’s enragement, Skyler realizes too late that these crooks aren’t letting them leave with the money. More carnage and Movie Awakenings ensue, until it’s finally clear that these two crazy kids just aren’t good for each other. After agreeing to stay at the cabin with Skyler forever, Milton pretends to follow through with his daily Russell-murder to test her loyalty. And Skyler even hangs in there for a millisecond or two as if eternal vacationing with Milt could actually be a thing. Unfortunately, she’s not as pure and holy as Milton hoped she’d be. She shoots him to death to free herself from the curse, assuming that this one will be permanent. When they all wake up and she realizes Milton’s deception, it’s a shock and a half. Guys, this movie is actually pretty clever.
Itching for some righteous payback after overhearing their argument, Russell takes advantage of the lovers spat and knocks them out, chaining them all together in the cellar with a gun. He decides they’re going to play a game of Russian Roulette to decide their ultimate fates. Whoever doesn’t paint the walls with their brains after passing the gun around a few times wins. Despite the fact that whoever has the gun could possibly just shoot someone else, including Russell, this sounds like a good plan to him. And since he’s got the gun, they’re in no position to disagree! It works out for them since he also decides to go first, and promptly kills himself for the last time.
The moment of truth arrives after a fight for the remaining loaded weapon ends with Milton aiming at Skyler. She makes a tearful claim that she knows he loves her, and because he’s a hopeless dope, he agrees, then turns the gun on himself. She tries to stop him, but it’s too late. Over his final, lifeless body, she cries. It’s all over now…
PSYCH! Here comes Adelaide’s Goon Squad, here to collect their bounty and send Skyler to sleep with the fishes. They’ve stepped onto the same soil that had trapped our witless trio for who-knows-how-long, so now they’re about to get stuck too! Skyler can only look at them and laugh, as the nightmare begins anew.
That… was actually kinda awesome. I knew it was a low-budget flick with a bunch of Ranger alums, and a steady diet of such endeavors had trained me to have very specific expectations. I’m happy to say, this is among a small few that surprised me. It’s not exactly fine art, even by horror standards, but I wasn’t ready for such a smartly-plotted film with so many interesting narrative turns. Milton and Skyler have a depth to them that I was unprepared for, accentuated most strongly in their final moments together when Skyler attempts to stop him from offing himself, even though we can sense that it still wouldn’t have ended well if she’d succeeded.
Perhaps it helped that Milo Cawthorne and Olivia Tennet were a couple both on and off-screen at the time, but their performances really shined through the (quite deliberately) cracked-out story. Ari Boyland gets the highest of fives for his delightfully psycho Russell and his ability to make all ten-million of his deaths either funny or disturbing, or both, and he’s still got the most convincing fake accent of all time. Joining the cast for a hot minute was our homie Mike Ginn, as Milton’s roommate at the rehab joint, who gets kicked out of his own room so Skyler can work her magic on Milt. Not doing much, but hey, it’s good to see him, and at least he doesn’t get axe-murdered. Not even once!
As a fan of the genre, it wasn’t a terrible stretch for me to get on-board for this movie, even without the actors a Power Ranger fan might recognize. Squeamish viewers may have a tougher time with the violence that, while often over-the-top and humorous, is still pretty brutal. I had a blast watching the old school practical effects work in play, from the exploding blood squibs to gruesome make-up work for various injuries.
I also loved, though I suspect it was not their intention, all of the times where the movie cuts away to avoid showing what would have been a dreadfully expensive effect that they probably had no money to pull off. It’s just a personal quirk of mine that I actually enjoy sensing the corners that get cut on low-budget productions. It just highlights the great things one can achieve even with somewhat limited means.
And, while I’m just a bit older than the kids in the expected Power Ranger demographic, I can’t help but get a blip of immature glee at hearing the PG-rated heroes of a kids show launch into a string of offensive language as casual as can be. It wouldn’t shock me to hear that the actors enjoyed shedding that image as well, even if it wasn’t for the first time since their days on the show.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of movies starring actors from the PR franchise. I don’t know if I’d recommend a lot of them to anyone who wasn’t already intensely interested, knowing full well what they’re likely to get out of the deal. In the case of Blood Punch, we have a film that would stand up to the scrutiny of horror freaks (at least of this variety), that employs real characters, fun performances, and a story that delivers on the expectations its premise sets up for itself, in some cases, even exceeding them. It’s not a great film, but maybe if you squint, you’ll find a good one.
I mean, you know, if… if you’re into that sorta thing.