The film's prologue opens in December 1979. A young girl walks into a convenience store in a sleepy Southern town and tells the proprietor that angels have informed her of his murderous deeds. As she steals a bag of sweets from the counter, he clocks a strange half-moon-shape branding upon her wrist. She flees into the ether.

Cut to the present day, where the film starts proper. We meet heavily pregnant Sarah (Chelsey Crisp), whose car has broken down en route to the sleepy Southern town she's just moved to with doctor husband Matt (Michael Steger). A local deputy sheriff kindly stops to help repair her puncture, but is noticeably perturbed by the half-moon-shape branding on her neck. She however insists it's merely a birthmark.

Sarah eventually makes it to her plush new home, where Matt is patiently waiting. They give the place a quick clean, just in time for a party of friends to arrive for a housewarming: Sarah's old pal Bree (Brittany Ishibashi) who takes medication to keep her imaginary friends at bay; Bree's hunky personal trainer beau Dave (Emilu Nelson); Sarah's slacker brother Eric (Riley Smith); his feisty partner Skye (Lyndon Smith).

Following a barbecue and a few beers, this sextet sits down around a garden table and start reminiscing. Things turn sour when Eric reminds Sarah how they were visited by ghosts in their family home when they were kids. Sarah takes umbrage at this and Matt wants Eric gone as a result. However, when Dave mentions a local legend about a haunted prison which burned down in the 1980s, and keen ghost hunter Eric suggests a visit there that evening, Matt insists they all tag along - if only "to call bullshit" on his least favourite person's beliefs that they will find apparitions there.

So, off the six of them set for this fabled prison. Sarah drops the group off where the road ends and drives away, leaving the other five to proceed to the remote building on foot.

Alas, Sarah crashes her car after receiving a vision of the prologue's eerie girl while driving. She's okay physically, but is stranded on a deserted stretch of road. Meanwhile, the others reach their ghost-hunting destination and excitedly set about exploring the heavily graffitied ruins. But who's the blood-soaked Rob Zombie lookalike who keeps appearing in flash-illusions to members of the group?

Yes, things get weird pretty quickly from this point onwards. And it's not even sundown yet. For Sarah, this involves a long walk back into town and getting picked up by severely disfigured deputy Wilson (The Jesus Lizard vocalist David Yow). For the others, their evening starts badly with Eric suffering a near-death experience of supernatural persuasion, and gets steadily worse as they foolishly decide to stick around anyway in the hope of communicating with malevolent spirits.

Tripp Rhame's directorial feature debut is an interesting Southern-based pot-boiler, setting out its stall well with finely written characters, courtesy of screenwriter Ben Jacoby, and likeable performances. The script handles expositional detail relatively subtly; the pacing of the first act is unrushed, in no hurry to bolster the action to the detriment of atmosphere and scene-setting.

Once the horrors begin, it admittedly becomes a tad less interesting and a little more generic. The camerawork and editing are unimaginative, while the occasional use of CGI doesn't work too well and seems at loggerheads with the rural Gothic qualities felt strongly elsewhere. However, BLEED remains amiable enough and intriguing enough - while we await the reveal of the half-moon tattoos' significance, the ties to the prologue, and so on - to win a recommendation from me.

BLEED comes to US DVD courtesy of MVD Visual. Boasting an uncut running time of 80 minutes and 2 seconds, the film is presented in its original 2.35:1 ratio and enhanced for 16x9 televisions. A solid transfer handles its atmospheric, often smoky visuals very well. Images are clear, clean and crisp from start to end. Colours and flesh tones remain true at all times; blacks never falter or suffer from unwelcome noise issues.

English audio is provided in choices of 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. Both are of equal worth, proffering clean and evenly balance, consistent playbacks throughout. There's mention on the back cover that the film comes equipped with subtitles in French and Spanish, but neither of these are present on the disc.

MVD Visual's region-free DVD opens to an animated main menu page. From there, an animated scene selection option affords access to the film via 10 chapters.

Extras consist of an entertaining selection of cast interviews:

Yow is predictably engaging during his 6-minute chat with director Rhame. He's down-to-earth, fun and enthusiastic as he gushes over his time on the shoot, how he enjoyed the chemistry shared between him and Crisp, and his own thoughts on supernatural matters in the everyday world.

Lyndon Smith reveals to Rhame that she was apprehensive upon first reading of the script because she'd never seen a horror film, but was driven to do it both by her attraction to her character and the encouragement received from her gorehound husband Steve Talley. She, too, has good memories of the shoot. This interview last 12 minutes.

Riley Smith is also very at ease over the course of 8 minutes speaking jovially with the director about his own attraction to the film, and the anecdotes which were woven into the final cut. He particularly remembers the atmospheric prison location.

Crisp gets two interviews, both with Rhame. The sum total part of these two is 14 minutes. She speaks about how she first reacted to the script, admitting to not fully understanding it but wanting to be a part of the production anyway. We also learn how her planned trip to Tahiti with her fiancée was curtailed by shooting clashes; how the character she related to most was Riley's; how the pregnancy suit was such a bugbear, and much more.

Rhame also grills Nelson over 6 minutes of airtime. He speaks more of his character motivations, and the experience had on the shoot.

Steger speaks of his "deep love for independent films" when asked by Rhame what attracted him to the production. He's present for another enjoyable - if somewhat samey - 6-minute interview. To his credit, he starts asking Rhame questions at one point, which is a tad refreshing.

Each interview is well-shot and adroitly edited with two cameras. Having Rhame quiz each cast member is a good move, putting each one at ease and coaxing out a natural, candid nature throughout.

BLEED is an interesting little film. It benefits from a rich atmosphere, solid performances, well-drawn characters and some effective scares. It's not flawless - the build-up is more interesting than the set-pieces - but the denouement is worth sticking around for.

MVD Visual's DVD serves the film well.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by MVD Visual