Grayson Lazarus on Matthew Pope’s ‘Blood On Her Name’ (2020)
In director Matthew Pope’s debut film, Leigh’s (Bethany Anne Lind) foolishness comes from a mixture of selfishness and selflessness depending on the scene. A young mother scraping by as a mechanic in a small-town shop, Blood On Her Name begins with Leigh intentionally killing a man in self-defence. Once the deed is done, Leigh rarely stops flailing and backtracking over the proper direction to move forward with. Most of her erratic and oftentimes foolish decisions come from a natural fear of being arrested, while others from an earnest but sloppily executed respect for those she has wronged. After the young, struggling mother wraps the body in plastic and covertly returns it to the family, only later she’s forced to return for her forgotten necklace, lest she be implicated in the crime.
She may not be pure, bur one cannot easily ascribe a moral judgement towards Leigh despite her empathetic petrification. From starting a fight that forces her to kill, to holding a widow at gunpoint unnecessarily, her violent tendencies continue to have consequences, even as she comes across as a good person of innocent maturity just not thinking straight. However—unlike a good person—she continues to lie about her responsibility in instigating the inciting incident, blaming the victim throughout.
As the film progresses, Leigh is paired as a subtle generational doppelgänger, a bruised reflection of her murderous cop father, played by Will Patton. Between raising a violent son (Jared Ivers) and coping with drug addiction, Leigh may posture herself as resentful towards her lineage, but she’s also shaped by him. Unlike her father, she waffles between the urge to do the right thing and acting on her self protective impulses, but for unclear reasons. It’s likely that her regret comes from a humane urge to provide closure to others or as a rejection of her father’s advice to hide and lie in order to move on with her life. What makes the struggle of succumbing to the “sins of the father” appealing is Leigh’s lack of self-awareness. She may reflect her father’s bad temperament and decision making, but can only complain about it from afar. Even if she wanted to act against her father, her distance from him could prevent her from guessing his decision making.
Every facet of Leigh’s strenuous life comes through Lind’s perpetually shaken, expressionistic performance. Her meagre voice and helpless demeanour inform the regressed, inconsiderate child that must be more deeply considered by the film’s closing sentiment. Leigh is, visibly, a terrible liar. She is constantly breaking eye contact with her son, father, and only friend (Jimmy Gonzales) with a drastic turn of the head, her expressions made plain as if they were spoken aloud through her contorted expressions. In addition to hosting an ever-present layer of dirt, Leigh, a young woman, looks visibly aged, wrinkled from the stress of what her life has devolved into after just a few hours; it’s often difficult to discern where the makeup and performance begin and end.
Leigh and Lind’s strength are met with an incontestable competency from the filmmakers, but little that moves past formal basics that support the film’s greatest assets. Conversations often play as a collection of well framed close-ups which provide a canvas for Lind’s excellence, but offer little visual flair. The blankness of rural America on display holds potential for a Coen Brothers social or political introspection, but it’s not quite desolate enough to be tragic nor populated enough to be of worth on a map. Between the characters who seem to live laissez faire, workmanesque lives, and the filmmaking that holds the primary concern of keeping its subjects in one-shots with little reverence or consideration for the surrounding environment, so much ends up feeling circumstantial.
Pope doesn’t have an especially visual eye or astute ear for interactions, but letting his talented cast loose with a collection of types played by professionals and a dynamic heroine played by a true talent leads him to an admirable but unfortunately low bar: a certainly strong character piece, little more.
Blood On Her Name is available on VOD 1st May 2020.