Two sides of the law clash in writer/director Peter Rajesh Joachim’s debut feature Blood Empires. Daniel Lloyd (Stevie Jay) witnessed his mother murdered in cold blood as a child and was left to live with his alcoholic father who was involved in organized crime. Elena Kayaka (Kassandra Santos) lost her father before following in his footsteps and becoming a police officer in Cleveland. Elena begins working on a case involving a rapidly expanding criminal organization when she happens to run into Daniel. The two begin a relationship, but what Elena doesn’t realize is that Daniel happens to be a member of the gang she’s investigating, and while Daniel will stop at nothing to escape this life to be with Elena, she may not feel the same way when she finds out the truth.

Joachim’s debut, shot in just 12 days, shows some moments of great character drama, but also suffers from many of the problems that first time directors will come across. Jay and Santos do great jobs in their respective roles, and do even better work when they’re together, but the surrounding characters and problematic script tend to leave these performances lacking.

Shot on a very small budget, Joachim spends more time than necessary on scenes that show the lack of money. Filled with shootings and dead bodies, these scenes are glaring examples of the lack of funds. Daniel carries a shotgun around with him most of the time, but the result of using this weapon are never able to be shown. Had Joachim dialed this back, giving Daniel a small handgun instead, we’d never really pay attention to the lack of damage or blood in these moments.

Blood Empires shines when it lets Jay and Santos work together though. Their relationship is fun to watch build, even though the way they meet seems like it would put an end to things right away. On their own, they each have a few scenes where they get to showcase some emotional performances, but it’s when they’re simply interacting outside of their lives of law and crime that we can see their range. Their story, while very hard to believe, is at least entertaining and well played.

Besides Jay and Santos, a lot of the performances are unpolished or wooden. There are some scenes that just don’t add anything to the overall story, and a lot of the cops working around Elena in the police station are incredibly cliché. There’s just too much time spent away from the few performers who do well. This is toned down as the film progresses, since Daniel and Elena become a bigger focus, but it would have been nice to get a better understanding of why they’ve become who they are. We’re really only given one or two scenes to try and explain what has led each character to where they are in life, and they don’t really make sense.

It all leads up to a rather shocking ending, and one that was a nice change of pace from what you would probably expect. It’s the one moment that really moves away from what we’re used to seeing, and it’s a surprise that feels right. It’s too bad that more of the film didn’t have the same impact, or ability to tell a story that was something we haven’t seen before.

Blood Empires will soon be hitting VOD, so be sure to keep your eyes open.

Blood Empires Trailer