There’s a dead body on the floor; the blood pooling out from underneath the crushed skull. A woman with scratches over her face is panting. She’s slight, giving the appearance of fragility. There’s something resonating beneath the surface. A hidden scrappiness that highlights a survivor’s instinct. She starts to panic. Clearly, this was self-defense, but the stain of the dead body on the floor threatens to stain other things. Her reputation is at stake. Her son’s future is at stake. The automobile shop’s customer-base would never come to the shop once news gets out. That’s when she makes the decision. She’ll do whatever she can to hide the body. Thus, begins Matthew Pope‘s debut feature BLOOD ON HER NAME.
Throughout the course of the film, we are taken on a neo-noir style journey where we must unravel the giant ball of clues to piece together why the woman has found herself in the situation at the start of the film. However, as we quite quickly discover, we have to parse these clues given by an unreliable narrator. Enter Bethany Anne Lind’s Leigh Tiller. Leigh Tiller is straight out of the New American Gothic genre’s Bible. She is an anti-hero riddled with anxiety trying to keep her family together. However, the work done in cultivating the character both on paper and through the performance onscreen elevates her past the standard genre expectations.
From the beginning, we know Leigh is traumatized by what she has done. There’s blood on her hands and there’s no going back from that point. However, her conflicting emotions as to what to do with the body showcase that there’s much more going on that she’s not quite ready to admit to herself. She waffles and, as we slowly peel off the layers of her exterior, we see a woman who leans cautiously into morally grey territory fighting against her fear of becoming her father. However, this is an internal struggle of good versus evil for Leigh. While she has done awful things, the struggle to push past what is easy (i.e. crime) and be a good, honorable person that does right by her son is the crux of her moral dilemma. And, with Lind’s masterful, subtle performance, the audience can easily sink into the complexities of the character while also want to continue the journey to its natural end.
Now, this is a film that can be pretty easy to spoil given the sheer amount of information stuffed up its craw. So, I do want to make sure that I keep things as spoiler-free as I can for you guys. At its core, BLOOD ON HER NAME is very much a character piece. The story itself is important and, in all honesty, truly great work on the script from Pope and producer Don M. Thompson. They’ve created a full-circle type of tale that keeps you guessing, but feels completely natural in how the journey plays out. However, the glue that keeps everything stuck together is the work Lind has put into her portrayal of Leigh. Had the team at Rising Creek cast anyone else, I’m not sure the story would have landed as solidly as it did, even with how on point the script was. And that’s just a real testament to Lind’s work.
The supporting cast as well rises up to match Lind’s performance, creating an ensemble that moves cohesively to build the world in which Leigh resides in. Obviously, a more rural background, we see how easily it can be for someone like Leigh to buckle under the weight of pressure out there. We see the cop (Will Patton) who finds an easier way to make life better for himself by giving into corruption. We see the girlfriend (Elizabeth Röhm) complicit with the knowledge of her boyfriend’s illegal activities. Each person has their part to play and pushes Leigh to explore and react to aspects of herself that are uncomfortable, but very much present within herself. But, in the end, all performances, all characters, all story points, come together to create a somberly enticing tale that just plain works.
Ultimately, BLOOD ON HER NAME is a strong piece that fits perfectly in the realm of the New American Gothic genre. Bethany Anne Lind is captivating as Leigh Tiller, making the moral ambiguity and complexity of the character something that creators and actors will reference for years to come. The script that director Matthew Pope and producer Don P. Thompson have crafted, however, serves as a glorious homage to a genre that really should get more love. All in all, I would highly recommend to everyone, especially for those who are fond of the good ol’ character study.
BLOOD ON HER NAME will be hitting select theaters in the United States and will be available on Video on Demand on February 28, 2020.
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