“Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin.” – Hebrews 9:22
From the beginning of the Old Testament, it has always been made clear that to absolve ourselves of sin, innocent blood must be shed. Forgiveness is not possible without the shedding of this blood. In Hebrews 9:11-28, specifically, there is a comparison and contrast to the inferior animal blood sacrifices of the old rituals versus the more superior sacrifice of Christ. The single death of Christ was mightier than the numerous blood sacrifices used to forgive us for our sins in the eyes of the Lord. However, no one could deny that it was the act of shedding blood that connected to the absolution of sin. Taking creative inspiration from Robert Lowry’s hymn, Daniel Tucker’s NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD seeks to explore the violent religious actions taken by those who see themselves as acting on behalf of God, with the shedding of blood being the catalyst for change and – ultimately – excruciating cleansing of sin.
NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD is written and directed by Daniel Tucker. It is set against the idyllic backdrop of rural Texas, where underneath that pretty exterior resides a community ripe for violent religious indoctrination. Like a virus, it slowly makes its way through the town, where anyone who stands outside the Lord’s presumed laws is the enemy. The film stars Rachel Hudson (Ashes to Ashes, The Place We Hide), Jordan O’Neal (“Fabletown”, “Death and Compromise”), Nick Triola (Remember to Forget), and Les Best (Scare Package, The Suplex Duplex Complex).
In NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD, we meet small-town journalist Jessica Cutler (Rachel Hudson). She is dying to do something other than cover small-town kid games, jumping at the chance to cover the new evangelical church, Emeth. A church that has become known in the news for stoning people and burning down houses, yet is still sprouting up branches throughout the country. After arguably the most awkward interview with one of Emeth’s leaders, Michael (Nick Triola), where Jessica’s animosity towards organized religion isn’t disguised in the slightest, it’s not long until we meet the other members of the church. There’s the would-be prodigal son, Thomas (Jordan O’Neil), who takes the Church’s teachings with a grain of salt while also sowing his wild oats where he can. The sowing had already led its way to Jessica’s doorstep and it’s not long before romance ensues.
Thomas and Jessica’s romantic actions put them at extreme odds with Father (Les Best), who takes issue with their sin (but more that Thomas is bucking against his patriarchal grip). It’s not long before Thomas is cast out and Jessica becomes pregnant with their out-of-wedlock baby. These developments ultimately culminate in bloody tragedy, and force the audience to take stock of how far one will go to shed blood to cleanse sin, even if the one who sheds the blood is the true sinner after all.
Narratively, NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD has loads of potential. There are interesting enough threads woven throughout the course of the script if you separate them from the overall film. However, as soon as we make headway with one, we jump to the next. And, when placed together, it’s hard not to start picking up on the cliches leaned on in the story. With the jumping between plot points and a lack of exposition to string those plot points together, it makes it difficult as a viewer to follow along, especially when the characters themselves (more specifically Jessica and Thomas) develop almost instantly between each section. Add in the time jump that occurs later on in the film, with no real adjustment period for the audience, it ultimately ends up impacting how we connect to the characters onscreen. By the time we reach the climactic tragic event that is meant to change everything, the emotional impact is lacking as we did not get the opportunity to adjust, attach, and grow with Jessica and Thomas as they now must confront what’s happened.
While the writing itself left much to be desired, most of the performances onscreen were flat. Part of the issue with the performances may be connected to the writing as there are time jumps that occur and exposition left out. The dialogue itself is also a bit on the nose. I hate to refer back to the term, but also very cliched. This runs the gambit of delivering the flat performances we see in NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD. However, there were a couple of standouts that I should put a spotlight on. Les Best, while taking on the over-the-top, Bible-thumping Father, takes that dialogue and plays it with an earnest believability that will have you quaking in your boots. We all, in some capacity, know this Father. And we will do everything in our power to stay in his good grace. Vivian Glazer’s Katie presents a believably anxious, co-dependent woman. When she loses her mother, Glazer’s handling of the character’s transition into Emeth makes sense.
Direction, coupled with the writing, may also play a hand in how the performances are perceived. Take, for example, the interview scene between Jessica and Michael. It’s clear right off the bat that Jessica has a major issue with Emeth and with Michael. This results in a lack of professionalism unbecoming of any journalist. With that tension already presented, the build-up that would have made Michael’s inevitable explosion all the more shocking was lost. What results is a scene that putters out faster than possibly intended. If the delivery of the lines was slowed down and, if Jessica presented as professional only to steadily break down that wall as the interview progressed, the gradual building of that tension leading to Michael’s explosive response would hit harder as the escalation would feel earned rather than forced as it does onscreen. This type of note regarding possible direction changes in dialogue delivery in NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD was one I made at several points. It left me wondering how the performances would have changed depending on those shifts in delivery.
NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD shows the potential in its story, but is potential enough to sell the film itself? I’m not certain in this film’s case. There is a lot of anger interwoven in the story that just radiates off the screen, which creates something for the audience to grab onto. It is clear after viewing that the film seeks to point out the hypocrisies found more specifically in the Evangelical Christian faith and, with some finessing and editing, I think it could have succeeded. However, the film itself is weighed down by predictable cliched moments, further sinking when taking into account how little the writing itself aims to scratch below the surface of its subject. And, even if the performances featured in the film were better than they are, I’m not certain that the performances could save the writing as is. But, there is potential and I’d advise everyone to keep an eye on writer/director Daniel Tucker in the future. There’s something there.
NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD is now available on Video On Demand, Blu-ray, and DVD nationwide on August 4, 2020.
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