Streaming Releases: Blood on Her Name (2019) - Reviewed

Hindsight is the most dangerous specter.  Mistakes made, things forgotten, and wrongs never righted are the hallmarks the noir/neo-noir genre.  Matthew Pope's debut feature, Blood on Her Name, is a stripped-down deconstruction of crime gone awry.  Most stories of this nature deal with the fall out of when plans don't work.  In an unexpectedly creative approach, Pope and his relentlessly talented cast and crew explore the disaster of unexpected violence in an almost real-time presentation, forcing the viewer to circle the drain of hopelessness along with the characters.  

In a small, American rural town, the story begins seconds after a body hits the floor in a desolate mechanic's garage.  What follows is a desperate attempt to dispose of the body, endlessly complicated by the realities of human nature and the implacable indifference of the unforeseen.  This is a film that depends almost entirely on its central performance.  Bethany Anne Lind (scene stealing supporting actress from Reprisal) is the very essence of imperfect contradiction.  She is flawed and caring, bruised and protective, merciless and tender.  The short amount of time the audience is given with her character, despite it being a living manifestation of purgatory, almost allows her to run the gambit of human emotion.  

Her tense scenes with the amazing Will Patton buffet the story's arc with raw exposition and whispered caution.  Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Lind's poetic turn is in how normal her portrayal is.  Seeing a strong woman who is both in control of her flaws and at their mercy is fascinating, as most pictures tend to double down on extremes.  Lind's character Leigh is dangerous to the point of committing violence if required and yet has an undeniable sense of human morality that ultimately seals her fate. 

This is a lived-in world, where everything and everyone is used up.  Comparisons to Winter's Bone are inevitable, but Pope's world of thieves, killers, and trailer parks is an organic representation of the people left behind by the American machine.  There are mysteries everywhere, both the obvious and the understated and how these intertwine as Leigh attempts to dispose of the body is a tragedy of the highest order, including an unforgettable finale that twists a final existential screw.   

Matthew Roger's cinematography is astounding.  The restraint in which characters and locales are captured relays a fundamental understanding of Pope's vision.  Uncomfortable close ups are flanked by dingy grays and browns, representations of corruption that Leigh seems unable to escape.  The final product is a quasi Osark noir that Daniel Woodrell himself would acclaim.  

Coming soon to digital on demand, Blood on Her Name is a terrific effort by an immensely talented cast and crew.  Helmed by a director who is comfortable with fast paced, kinetic descents into decision laden circles of hell, this is one of the best films of the year thus far.  While some may balk at the abruptness of the plot and certain aspects of the drama at play, ultimately this is a slimmed down, pitch black foray across the line.  The definition of the line and how far across are what is of import and Pope explores these concepts with tears, blood, and a fundamental understanding that in the criminal underworld, feelings often cost more than one can afford.

--Kyle Jonathan