Blood on Her Name REVIEW – A Tight, Character-Driven Thriller
Blood on Her Name appropriately opens with a congealing puddle of dark blood. The blood pools by the feet of Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind), a single mother who runs an auto shop, who’s doing her best not to panic. A man lies dead in her shop, seemingly bludgeoned by a wrench that’s on the floor beside him. Thinking quickly, Leigh cleans the mess, wraps up the body, and attempts to figure out what to do with it. Toss it in the nearby lake? Burn it? Bury it? For the first 8 minutes of the film, Leigh’s struggle to decide what needs to be done is displayed through nothing more than panicked breaths and anguished facial expressions, while Brooke and Will Blair’s tense score instills a looming sense of dread.
Who was this man, and why did Leigh kill him? After this kind of jump-start opening, most films would rewind and explain themselves via flashback. But Blood on Her Name, the feature directorial debut of Matthew Pope, only moves forward, leaving the audience to pick up on clues and put pieces together themselves. The mystery of this murder isn’t the who or the where, it’s simply the why. For Leigh – someone that’s raising a troubled, teenage son on her own in a poor part of rural Georgia – there are plenty of reasons.
This thriller is an incredibly tight and contained story, supported by a small but immensely talented cast. The script, written by Pope and collaborator Don Thompson, is laser-focused and entirely driven by character. No line of dialogue goes to waste; each one provides vital background for the characters, their world, and the film’s deeper themes of guilt, remorse, and unbridled rage. Bethany Anne Lind (Ozark, Stranger Things, The Walking Dead) is a powerhouse, and Pope wisely hinges his film almost entirely on her raw performance. It pays off in spades.
Had Leigh gone through with disposing of the body, this movie could’ve ended right there. But in a moment of moral complexity, she makes the decision to attempt to return it to his family. In her mind, they shouldn’t be left forever wondering what happened to him. But no good deed goes unpunished, and Leigh’s situation becomes infinitely more complicated once she makes this choice. In a small community like this, overseen by a shady cop (Will Patton), who just so happens to be Leigh’s father, secrets are hard to keep hidden.
Blood on Her Name deals with inherited pain and anger, and how they easily lend themselves to violence. In her drug-assisted sleeps at night, Leigh dreams of past traumas; moments in her life where she witnessed her father commit egregious sins of his own. Try as she might, it’s obvious that her morally corrupt dad’s worst traits have rubbed off on her. Leigh is prone to angry outbursts and unhealthy coping mechanisms, and her current situation only enhances those negatives. What she wants more than anything is to protect her son, Ryan (Jared Ivers) – to shield him from the harshness of this world and the violence it perpetuates – and ensure that he doesn’t end up like her or his grandfather. But it may already be too late.
The film paints a bleak portrait of life in these parts of the United States, where opportunity is hard to come by and options are limited. Leigh can’t afford to have something as scandalous as a death in her shop. “We don’t need a bad reputation with the few customers we got left.” she says. Violence and poverty are forever interlinked, so much to the point that it becomes embedded in the culture. The only recreational activities available are shooting, hunting, and fishing; all revolve around the act of killing. When Leigh’s father teaches Ryan how to handle and shoot a gun, she angrily cuts the lesson short and accuses it of poisoning her son’s mind. She mentions that he’s not allowed to watch anything R-rated. But these are futile attempts. How can anyone possibly keep away from violence – whether it’s for sport, self-defense, or an act of aggression – when it’s simply a way of life in the part of the world you’re being raised in?
Blood on Her Name is short, concise, and manages to pack in a series of revelations that continuously puts the film in a new light until it all culminates in a shocking and explosive ending. It moves at a brisk pace, but still finds plenty of time for moments of contemplation for its characters. Whether it’s a shot of Leigh silently weeping in her car or staring at her reflection as if she doesn’t recognize it, the film quietly ponders who we are in our lowest and darkest moments. Whoever we might have been – because of our upbringing or our environment (or both) – hardly seems to matter in a time of true crisis like Leigh’s. It’s the choices we make in these moments that show us who we truly are.
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Blood on Her Name is a tightly focused thriller that asks what lengths we’ll go to conceal a murder.
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