I enjoy big blockbuster films as much as the next person. In fact, I´ve written extensively before about how I don´t dislike the Bayverse TRANSFORMERS films. But that´s only a fraction of what the medium has to offer, and in an age where Marvel and Star Wars films rule the box office, it´s easy to forget that. That´s why I really like watching, and reviewing, indie films. Lacking the big budget to create on-screen candy, these movies need to come up with ingenious ways to entice, and keep, a viewer´s attention. BLOOD ON HER NAME is one such film, focusing on embracing its constraints to tell an intimate story about how far people are willing to go to protect those they love.
Starring Bethany Anne Lind (REPRISAL, OZARK) in the lead with Will Patton (REMEMBER THE TITANS, ARMAGEDDON) and Elizabeth Röhm (AMERICAN HUSTLE, JOY), BLOOD ON HER NAME starts with protagonist´s Leigh´s rather uncomfortable conundrum of having to dispose of a dead body currently lying in a pool of blood on her workshop floor. The setup is rather good, and it uses a similar approach to other crime series I´ve enjoyed recently, most notably the TV show THE SINNER: put the crime up front, and let the aftermath (as well as the motivations behind it) drive the film.
This classic-but-often-overlooked approach, coupled with its slow-burning pace, give the film its self-proclaimed neo-noir credentials, and this can be both a blessing and a curse. I think this will be a hard sell for a younger audience´s increasingly short attention span, which might limit its market appeal. However, for those of us who enjoy a cup of steeped tea as much as a quick shot of espresso, unraveling the mystery of Leigh´s motivations and the unwitting, and sometimes unwilling, collateral characters in the small-town plot are a breath of fresh air in a world full of trailers containing their whole film´s plot.
I was also taken aback by how masterfully the film tricked me into thinking it was presenting cliché after cliché, only to be shown a different twist or motivation or fact later in the movie. I spent the first half of the film thinking I knew what happened and why, only to be glued to the screen for the second half as everything I thought had happened turned out to be different. This bait-and-switch is something that a lot of filmmakers try to accomplish, but fail on one level or another. Director-writer Matthew Pope and writer-producer Don Thompson actually pull it off, perhaps in no small way thanks to their underpromise-overdeliver approach to setting up the plot and characters. Well done.
I´d rather not spoil the plot for you guys, so let us walk into the realm of the technical, to see how BLOOD ON HER NAME holds up.
Overall? Quite well! The photography is competent, if a little unremarkable. The sound, on the other hand, has definite ups and downs: the score is great, able to create a strong atmosphere and blending beautifully into the actions on screen. The mixing and off-screen inserts are sometimes less successful: I was able to identify a few lines delivered either in a sound booth or a different soundscape or through a different microphone a few times during the film. While probably not an issue for most people, I´m afraid my background in sound and music production means that I´m a bit more critical of issues such as these.
In terms of performance, there are incredibly strong showings from major players. Leigh´s struggles in particular come across as gut-wrenchingly real, and Will Patton´s acting chops are as sharp as I´ve ever seen them. Other performances fall a bit short, in particular those coming from younger members of the cast. However, this is a struggle for any motion picture, let alone an indie film, so to me, it doesn´t detract from the movie, in much the same way that Ian Curtis´ inability to always deliver songs on-tune didn´t detract from the songs´ impact.
In the end, BLOOD ON HER NAME is a film about message, ethics, and most of all, family. Touching on themes such as PTSD in children, family loyalty, law enforcement corruption, substance abuse and low-income families in developed countries, I can´t help but be grateful that movies such as these are still getting made. It pains me to say that it will probably encounter resistance from audiences due to its old-school pacing, but for those used to classic noir crime thrillers, this genre revival will update the formula with relevant themes and splendid twists and turns. A few technical niggles aside, Matthew Pope´s first feature is a strong debut that delivers even stronger moral conundrums in a very tight, very well-excecuted package.
“How far will you go to to protect the ones you love? What are you willing to do for your family?” These are the questions pondered by the film. I hope that you´re willing to go as far as the movie theater for this one, because it is a gem of a plot-driven, ethics-questioning film in a world full of wafer-thin eye-candy.
BLOOD ON HER NAME will be opening in select US theaters and VOD in the US, Canada, UK, AUS & NZ on Feb 28th from Vertical Entertainment.