There’s an old Alcoholics Anonymous saying that goes, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” If the adage holds true, then director Matthew Pope’s debut feature Blood On Her Name is downright terminal. It’s a rural slow-burner that hinges on said secrets, fear, and the weight of working-class single motherhood...
...It all starts with what appears to be a murder or a case of fatal self-defense when we meet single mother and auto-shop owner Leigh Tiller, played like a live-wire by Bethany Anne Lind, standing over a body resting in a pool of blood on the floor of her shop with an absolutely enormous wrench in hand. But Leigh isn’t a killer, and she doesn’t think like one either, a fact that sees her making a series of well-intentioned but ultimately foolish decisions to try and protect the fragile life she has maintained for her and her teenage son Ryan (Jared Ivers) while still doing the “right” thing.
Doing the right thing proves tricky, however, when your ex-husband is in prison and your son is fast on his heels as a subject of juvenile probation. It also doesn’t help when your dad is a county sheriff who has more than his own share of secrets. Secrets that you’ve had to shoulder and cope with since childhood. There’s a lot on the line for Leigh and though the weight of rural trauma has proved a heavy load, she’s persevered. A fact that, at times, can be nearly overlooked as we see her dig herself in deeper instead of pulling herself out.
For the audience it’s a frustrating venture, because the fact is we enter films thinking like killers. We’re used to cinematic killers thinking like killers, forensic considerations often high on the list. So when we see Leigh making what to us are amateur mistakes, it’s easy to want to start a short-tempered and out-loud commentary detailing everything she’s just done wrong and exactly what she should have done. I know I did. But that’s where Pope’s craft steps in. Every time a decision starts to spin itself out it gets tied up, with either a well-timed narrative side step or a satisfying morsel of character work. Lind hits an emotional note and stays on it for a majority of the film, but that shouldn’t suggest there isn’t nuance. She’s frayed to the max, and when we begin to sample her life, it becomes easy to see why. But every now and then she leaves a crack in the door and allows us to see the woman that was and may yet still be.
Tone, scripting, and beat work are god here. It’s working class backwoods noir at its rustiest. Pages of feeling and subtext are pushed out in chipped ice splinters of dialogue over split and dirty lips. Every surface and siding looks like it never has and never will be clean and new, birthed into rust. Everyone lives on fatalistic terms, poverty, death, ruin, and/or revenge, all just a kiss away. Absolutely nothing is permanent, moments, scenes, shots, none are to be savored, every frame serves as an omen.
Kudos is in order for Jared Ivers as Ryan, Leigh’s son, turning the only performance from a teen actor in recent memory that didn’t make want to slap them throughout. And no great introduction need be made for Will Patton stepping in as Leigh’s estranged cop father. His filmography speaks for itself and he brings his tireless brand of reedy charm to Blood. He seems so at home in sweat-stained white tees and dirty cop antics you’d swear he was born into it. He walks a fine line between friend and foe with a thorny pragmatism that rings true and creates a fine counterpoint to Leigh’s dogged lemonade out of lemons pursuit.
Blood On Her Name proves a heavy and valiant swing for Pope’s freshman effort at bat and bodes well for a home run in the future. It’s a lean, mean little film and it’s well worth a watch for those patient enough to sit with Leigh’s opening fumbles.
The movie hits select theaters and VOD this Friday, February 28th, 2020, from Vertical Entertainment.
By Paul Bauer