REVIEW: Blood On Her Name (2019)

dir. Matthew Pope.

“He’s a good kid,” insists single mum Leigh (Bethany Ann Lind) of her teenage son (Jared Ivers). It’s a message he struggles to believe: with his father locked up for trading stolen cars, himself on probation for drug offences and his key worker’s assessment that he’s just like his dad, there’s a smog of fatalistic pre-determinism hanging in the air.

This question of fate – and what it means to be “good” – are central to Matthew Pope’s oily Southern noir. Opening with a shot of blood oozing across concrete as Leigh stands over a dead man, the film trades in the iconography of violence, playing with inferred meanings about when it might be right (or at least understandable) to harm another human being, and the liminal point where such actions cross the line.

As with Dwight in the comparative Blue Ruin (2013), Leigh is no practised killer. She panics, deciding to handle the body herself rather than bring unwanted police attention on her already fragile family unit. It’s a decision that reverberates through the story, and Leigh’s psyche, as she struggles between wanting a stable home life for her son and the reality that burying bodies – both literally and figuratively – comes at an acute psychological cost. So when Leigh decides this is a burden she cannot bear, a last minute decision to return the body to the man’s family may salve her conscience but also sends things sideways.

Pope’s plotting remains consistently taught, closing in as both Leigh and her cover-up start to unravel, whilst dreamlike flashbacks show generational echoes of a fractious relationship with her father (Will Patton), the local Sheriff who’s made his own questionable choices to protect his family. The sins of the father may be a hackneyed trope, but it’s handled here with controlled precision and slow burn reveals that keep the view fresh even as the terrain remains familiar.

The performances are universally excellent too, punctuated by non-verbal grace notes that speak more than dialogue ever could (when Leigh listens to a voicemail on the dead man’s phone she discovers he too has a son, and can’t help but throw up). And as the noose tightens throughout the propulsive 83 minutes the audience is ultimately forced to consider that title: is the blood on Leigh’s first name, and thus her own responsibility, or her surname; something inherited, and then passed on.

undefined Tim Coleman

BLOOD ON HER NAME is available on VOD Feb. 28th

Published by Tim Coleman

Film critic. Screenwriter. Academic.

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