We live in a time when spoiler alerts (and complaints about spoilers) abound. Still, some movies do rely on audiences knowing as little as possible beforehand, not because they are indicative of lazy storytelling methods, but because the journey itself is part of the enjoyment factor. This lack of foreknowledge favors the kinds of documentaries that allow the viewer to accompany the film’s narrator on his or her quest for some form of the truth.
Such narrative journeys can be suspenseful or downright creepy; witness 2011’s Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, 2012’s The Imposter, or most famously, 2010’s Catfish. Comparing Fake Blood to Catfish makes me feel like this review is already giving too much away, but, Spoiler Alert! It’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Rob Grant and Mike Kovac work in the film industry and make low-budget horror movies on the side. One of their films, 2012’s Mon Ami, tells the story of two friends who work at a hardware store. Frustrated with their jobs and their lives, the characters decide to kidnap their boss’s daughter and hold her for ransom. When their kidnapping victim accidentally dies, they have to figure out how to dispose of the body. Fake Blood opens with Rob and Mike telling the viewer that a fan of Mon Ami has sent them a video depicting a tour of a hardware store. This includes advice on what tools are best for dismembering corpses.
Unable to decide if these two fans understand that Mon Ami is satire or if the video they were sent is itself satire, Rob and Mike start to question their complicity in an increasingly violent world. Grant and Kovac ask themselves if they have a responsibility to society and then decide to examine their motives for making violent films in the first place. The first segment of Fake Blood is full of the kinds of questions and philosophical arguments that will seem familiar to horror movie fans who feel they must always justify their interest in the genre.
At one point, when considering how far they should go when testing their own tolerance for real-life horrors, Kovac notes, “I don’t want to see gross shit.” He even worries about hypocrisy: “Do I have an obligation to put myself through that?” The irony is palpable, but it makes sense. Some people (myself included) can stomach a lot of horror movie gore and violence because it’s not real, but the minute a video of an overzealous, racist cop beating a man to death goes viral, we have to look away because we know it’s not fake.
Not long after Grant and Kovac start investigating the impact of real-life violence, Fake Blood takes a turn and becomes something of a metacritical marvel. Even if the events depicted are staged, the film is so believable and engaging that it manages to take viewers on a genuinely thrilling journey. The clever placement of reenactments in Fake Blood even made me feel a little guilty for watching true crime TV shows. After all, these are real people who were really murdered, not just fodder for our entertainment.
The questions that Fake Blood raises are only part of what makes it so fascinating. It’s that rare documentary where it almost doesn’t matter if what the audience is witnessing is real or not because it’s just that much fun to watch.