Matthew Pope’s Blood on Her Name is a steely, psychological thriller about cycles of violence. Now available in cinemas and on VOD in the US.
Matthew Pope’s Blood on Her Name opens on a grown woman staring in fright at a puddle of blood pooling toward her feet. Leigh Tiller (Bethany Anne Lind), a mother and business owner, stands frozen before the body of a man she later claims to have accidentally killed, a look of terror on her face. A later nightmarish flashback echoes this opening scene: a little girl, whom we now assume is the younger Leigh, listens outside a door to the violent grunts of her corrupt cop father (Will Patton). After the sounds of struggle cease with a loud thud, blood slowly seeps under the doorframe, and the girl looks on, calmly enough that we know she’s witnessed similar scenes before. This scene tells us things about Leigh’s violent childhood that retroactively inform the film’s opening: when the older Leigh looks in terror at the man she has murdered, it’s not just terror at having murdered a man, but terror at the fact that she’s becoming her father, a man she always resented for being violent.
In this steely, unforgiving, psychological thriller, there is no easy way out of a life of crime: either you turn yourself in and face the consequences of your actions, or you kill until there’s nobody left to turn you in. Over the course of a few days, Pope charts the increasingly rash decisions Leigh makes when she finds herself stuck between these two distressing options. Like a deer in headlights, she’s startled and unsure where to turn, stuck in a state of perpetual indecision. Her first instinct after the murder is to row the body out to the middle of a lake and dump it into the water’s depths — but she only gets as far as sinking the murder weapon, a spanner, before she doubts herself and turns back. Feeling guilty, she instead leaves the dead man’s body in his girlfriend’s garage, so that the girlfriend can have closure. Throughout the film, she makes several slip-ups because she’s too panicked to think things through: she leaves incriminating evidence at various crime scenes and admitting her guilt to people in the vain and misguided hope that they’ll take pity on her.
Pope and co-screenwriter Don M. Thompson explore cycles of violence as Leigh attempts to halt the history of violence in her family for the sake of herself and her teenage son, Ryan (Jared Ivers). Her ex-husband is in jail; her father is corrupt; and in one of the first scenes of the film, Leigh takes Ryan to meet his parole officer after Ryan blinded a kid in one eye. She’s determined to assert to the officer that he’s a good kid, insisting it in an almost panicked way, and we see that goodness in him too. But the violence of his father (and grandfather) has made Ryan violent, too — his instinct is to react to conflict with violence, like when he attacked the other kid because he was making fun of the fact that Ryan’s father is in jail.
Pope, Thompson, and lead actress Lind work together to create a visceral portrait of paranoia and anxiety that draws tension from its exploration of cycles of violence. Leigh’s violence is a product of the patriarchal violence she grew up under: her father is gun crazy and instills in her a kill or be killed attitude. As an amoral cop, he taught Leigh to operate above the law; while it’s an attitude she rails against (she hates her father and tells him so), and is determined to steer her son away from, she still ends up falling victim to it. What’s more, much of Leigh’s violent behaviour in the film is a result of her carrying on her ex-husband’s corrupt business, which she relies on to support her family. Lind’s face is constantly pinched and pained, her voice faraway with worry when she’s trying to go about her day as normal. “I keep thinking I hear sirens,” she confides to a friend, and you can see it in her face. She’s jittery and hyper-self-conscious; we watch her pace around and search the faces of everyone she talks to intently, scanning despairingly for signs of suspicion. Pope doesn’t need to do much more than linger on her face to ramp up the film’s tension and sense of urgency.
The film also hints that America’s lax gun control contributes to Leigh’s inability to escape from a violent world. She is reluctant to let her son, Ryan, spend time alone with his grandfather, because she’s afraid that he will encourage her son’s inclination toward violence. When she finds her fears confirmed — her father has taken Ryan to practice shooting — she’s furious. Leigh spends the film trying (and often failing) to keep her son away from bad influences, in order to break the cycle of violence, and those bad influences often come in the form of firearms. In the Southern backwoods town where the film is set, there’s even a billboard present in the background of one scene that screams the words: “GUNS. HUNTING. FISHING.” It’s hard for Leigh to stay hopeful that her family can escape violence when everyone and everything around her seem to be pushing her toward pulling a trigger.
Blood on Her Name is now available in cinemas and on VOD in the US.