The new indie crime thriller “Blood on Her Name” opens at the scene of a crime. The first shot is a closeup of a woman in distress, fresh cuts on her face and breathing heavily. Next to her is a dead man lying on the floor in a pool of blood. In what turns out to be the first of several bad choices, she decides not to call the police. It’s a decision that suggests something else is at play while setting in motion the taut 83 minutes that follow.
First-time feature film director Matthew Pope (who co-wrote the screenplay with Don M. Thompson) puts us in the position of reconstructing the crime, figuring out motive, and then watching how it all plays out. Pope uncoils the mystery through a slow drip of information that seeps naturally from his tense propulsive story. The concept is really simple, but it’s the proficient and confident execution that makes this slick southern noir sizzle.
The woman at the center is Leigh Tiller (Bethany Anne Lind) who runs a struggling auto garage owned by her incarcerated bad egg ex-husband. She desperately fights to keep her troubled son Ryan (Jared Ivers) from following in his father’s criminal footsteps. But a corpse with a cracked skull on the garage floor makes that difficult. To make matters worse, not only does she not call the cops, but her conscience won’t let her dump the body which leads to bad decision #2.
Lind gives a visceral portrayal of a woman wrestling with the consequences of her actions while trying to hold it together for the sake of her son. It’s a compelling lead performance rich with pathos that keenly projects Leigh’s inner-turmoil and frayed nerves. But there is more to the character than fear and anxiety. She is resolved to clean up her mess and hold together what is left of her family. We are instantly in her corner even without knowing all the facts. Her emotions are raw and genuine. Her trauma is real. But her judgments are suspect which ultimately brings an air of tragedy to the entire story.
A grizzled Will Patton is terrific playing Leigh’s father Richard. He’s a dirty cop with a violent side which has driven a wedge between him and his daughter (their past is unwrapped through some cleverly constructed flashbacks). He would love to get back in his daughter’s good graces, but she wants nothing to do with him. Elisabeth Röhm is also great playing the dead man’s girlfriend. They’re all caught up in a rural working class world where violence begets violence, actions lead to reactions, and bad choices can snowball in an instant.
Interestingly, no one fits the mold of the classic antagonist. Despite some truly terrible actions, everyone does what they do in the interest of protecting someone they love. Congruently, none of the characters want to be in this tangled, thorny mess. But from their individual perspectives there is no other way. It helps ground the movie by making everything about personal, real-world stakes.
The atmospheric cinematography, a tense minimalist score, crisp white-knuckled pacing. They each do their part to keep you in the movie’s grip. And of course there is the riveting, ￼eye-opening lead performance from Bethany Anne Lind. It￼ makes for an exciting debut from Matthew Pope whose sure-fire instincts and confident storytelling puts sets him firmly among the fresh new filmmakers to watch.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS