Blood on Her Name opens with a pool of blood and a panicked breath. A dead body of a man lies at Leigh’s feet. The cuts on her face would suggest that it was self-defense, an accident. She’s a single mother to a teenage son and fears the consequences for her family and for her auto body shop, so she decides to scrub her garage floor clean and dispose of the body. Just as she’s about to dump his body into the lake, his phone rings. Leigh listens to the message left: it’s from his son. Guilt hits her like a punch in the gut, and her conscience tells her that she must bring his body back to his family, to leave them without the pain of the unknowing. But she soon learns that nothing will be able to ease her conscience, and her world soon falls apart.
Matthew Pope delivers a tense, neo-noir battle of morality as Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind) is torn between hiding her crime and doing the right thing. It’s a character-driven thriller that explores guilt and how difficult it is to end cycles of violence. Violence is something she’s lived with all her life and she begins to reflect on it a lot throughout the course of the film. She has deep-rooted trauma caused by the murderous actions of her father (Will Patton), whose moral superiority has led her to this moment. Pope has crafted an environment with a confident eye that mimics the visual and narrative style of noir. I haven’t seen noir delivered so well or a noir that holds an almost identical image to that of its ’40s heyday. It’s incredibly impressive, especially for a little indie thriller.
Noir narratives explore the blurred line between good and evil, light and dark, and Pope makes sure that this line never breaks as his film contains most of all the primary “moods” that exist within the style: moral corruption, crime, guilt, desperation, paranoia, fear, and mistrust. There’s also a bleakness that not only speaks to the film’s narrative, but also to its visuals. Most noirs are in black and white and lit in low-key lighting, but while being shot in color, cinematographer Matthew Rogers and set designers Jackson Butler and Russ Williamson also create the same effect with a gloomy, washed-out, gray color palette with scenes shot to look like the sun never peeks out from behind the clouds.
The character of Leigh is also incredibly faithful to the noir style. Lind delivers a show-stopping performance worthy of applause. In the aftermath of the murder, Leigh tries to go about her day as though nothing has happened. This is all for the sake of her son Ryan (Jared Ivers), who has a record. His father is in jail and that’s why his juvenile delinquency comes to no surprise to his parole officer who says, “Like father like son.” But he’s a good kid that unfortunately was born into an environment of moral ambiguity that Leigh so desperately wishes to leave. Like all noir antiheroes, she’s stuck in a nightmare, her life driven by her past and the human weakness to repeat mistakes. Also, like all noir characters, Leigh is searching for something. In her case, she seeks relief and closure from her mistakes and she seeks to learn how to forgive the sin she witnessed in her past. She carries this weight and you can feel it through Lind’s expressive eyes. She takes drugs to try and ease the voice screaming in her head. She’s a forceful presence who plays a woman on the edge.
In noir, the female character has stereotypically been considered a femme fatale. She’s secondary to the male antihero whose crimes the audience follows; but the purpose of a femme fatale is a seducer who uses her charms to ensnare the protagonist, which in turn, leads to his downfall. In the case of Blood on Her Name, the protagonist living in a dark and gloomy world of crime and struggling to survive is the female character, and the secondary character who proves to be her most toxic influence is her father. This role reversal is rarely (if at all) seen in this style of filmmaking and it makes for an inventive movie. The narrative remains mysterious and intriguing until the very end. The major plot points are laid out slowly: the truth about the man’s death, who he was, his connection to Leigh, and their criminal misdeeds. It respects the noir’s love of a good twist and surprise. Blood on Her Name is an impressive first feature and a noir that, like its predecessors, succeeds in showing the dark side of human nature and its consequences.
Movie Score: 4/5