Creating a fresh take on a tried and tested genre, a crime drama where an unknown person is found dead, is a troubling task. What better way to remove much of the audience expectation with this kind of film than revealing the killer in the first frame? Taking more of a deconstructed approach to the murder, forgoing the motive in favour of what comes next, gives it a nicely engaging edge that serves the film well. While it may not be completely fresh, Blood On Her Name gets points for trying something different and executing it well.
Blood On Her Name stars Bethany Anne Lind (Ozark) as Leigh Tiller, our accidental murderer. Faced with a nameless man dead on her repair shop floor, Leigh must find a way to dispose of the body and clear the crime scene before her boss, Rey (Jimmy Gonzales), and her father, soon-to-be-retired town sheriff Richard Tiller (Will Patton) discover any wrongdoing.
Coming in at a brisk 85 minutes, Matthew Pope and his writing partner, Don M. Thompson, have crafted a genuinely tight little thriller that doesn’t waste a second of story. Whether it’s following Leigh and her increasingly problematic body disposal or the ever closing in investigation on the missing person, Blood On Her Name does manage to eke out a high amount of tension from even the simplest scenes. Every conversation Leigh has with her father is loaded with tension as the trouble she’s got herself in is never far from her mind, all the while dealing with the pressure of her troubled son’s probation officer watching her every move. There are a surprising amount of plates spinning over the course of the film, but they’re all kept spinning until the final frame.
Pope and Thompson’s plate spinning works so well because the film’s only real mystery – who did Leigh kill and why? – is revealed slowly. By mercifully taking a show don’t tell approach to storytelling, we’re asked to engage with the film and piece the story together ourselves as nuggets of information are given to us at regular intervals until the eventual, inevitable confession. The way Leigh crosses paths with characters associated with her accidental victim and the way they come back around later was impressively done and did even induce multiple gasps as the tension reached breaking point.
For a low budget fare, the film’s cinematographer, Matthew Rogers, does well to convey the down-on-their-luck, somewhat grimy nature of the small town in which the film is set. Bethany Anne Lind is the focus of most frames in the film, and they’re all shot with an up-close tension conveying a palpable feeling of being cornered with no where to run. Her father becomes increasingly suspicious, she’s struggling to hold herself together in front of her boss, and her son starts to feel abandoned as she seeks solace in solitude while contemplating how she got herself in this mess. Tension plays a major role in the film, and the film is shot with the full intention of making us feel as trapped as Leigh.
Bethany Anne Lind gives a genuinely great performance as the struggling single mother, Leigh. Trying to keep up appearances for her family while so evidently struggling with the weight of it all, Lind plays Leigh with heavy shoulders, struggling to keep abreast of everything. Even at her lowest points, a lesser performance would have rendered Leigh wholly unlikeable but there is an air of genuine believability and authenticity about the performance. While she may turn to the wrong kind of vice every so often and is forced to act selfishly from time to time, there is a real concern for her son, Ryan (Jared Ivers) that stays in focus throughout. With the almost ever-present family pictures on the wall or on her work desk and shots of his closed bedroom door, Ryan is an endless feature in her psyche that guides her through some of her questionable decision making. While I may not have agreed with her moves, many of them were made with her son in mind. Lind plays the character well and proves herself to be a more than capable lead to keep an eye on in years to come.
Will Patton’s character, Richard, is the film’s biggest misstep into crime thriller cliché territory. The one-last-job cop, the police officer father, is a trope that transcends time and space in the genre. There’s a surprising amount of heart in the performance as someone evidently at the end of his tether with his struggling daughter, but Richard too regularly ticks the boxes we’ve come to expect from this archetype. I enjoyed the part Richard played in the final act as his presence added even more tension to a well-crafted stand-off, I couldn’t shake the stereotypical banality of the character. As I said earlier, Blood On Her Name does the deconstruction thing well, it’s a shame they felt they had to rely on certain clichés to keep the plot moving, most of which centred around Richard.
Blood On Her Name is an impressive effort for a director and writer making their feature film debut. The film’s short runtime is a benefit to both the story and the viewers; it feels lean and well-paced while also providing a satisfyingly blood-soaked climax. Bethany Anne Lind gives a great lead performance and, while the film does have a few shortcomings by way of crime thriller clichés, these shortcomings are far outweighed by the positives.
Directed by: Matthew Pope
Cast: Bethany Anne Lind, Will Patton, Elisabeth Rohm, Jared Ivers, Jimmy Gonzale