Blood on Her Name

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/18/19 04:20:35

"An exceptionally well-constructed small-town noir."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Film noir has always tended to take place in the cities, whether because it makes for better shadows or because people have some revisionist image in their head where small towns are the "real America" compared to the places where individual acts of corruption can be large enough to be visible, but there's plenty of opportunity to be found elsewhere.

You don't need to explain this to Leigh Tiller (Bethany Anne Lind), who is already taking her 14-year-old son Ryan (Jared Ivers) to appointments with a probation officer and struggling to keep the family's garage afloat despite how her no-good husband made ends meet by running a chop shop after hours. Some folks apparently think it's still going on, as a late visit from one of her ex's partners in crime Daryl Cobb (Tim Hughes) leaves her with a body to dispose of, and while the smart move would be to just dump him in the lake, Leigh feels guilt at the idea of Cobb's girlfriend Dani (Elisabeth Röhm) not knowing what happened to him. But Cobb hadn't pulled his job alone, and somewhere along the line, Leigh lost a pretty distinctive necklace.

Bethany Anne Lind is in every scene of this movie, and her performance gives the movie a tremendously solid spine to build on. The story is driven by her attempts to do right, whether by her son, her employee Rey (Jimmy Gonzales), herself, or even a total stranger, despite the fact that she doesn't have a lot of room to make sacrifices and everyone in her life from her husband to her cop father (Will Patton) has seldom shown the same inclination, and her face always reflects that it's difficult. Lind shows Leigh's struggle to be a decent person without making her seem too idealistic and also builds the sort of not-entirely-formed shell that Leigh would have developed at this point in her life. There's never a crack when the audience learns something new about her or her backstory.

There is information to learn which informs the story as it goes, and it's well-deployed. There are few better movie-watching experiences than when the tail end of this sort of thriller has all of its pieces clicking together, maybe not forming something perfect but nevertheless making sense, maybe just a bit more than it had a moment or two earlier. Lots of movies have those sort of turns, but few have them work so well as Blood on Her Name, which never quite seems like it has to go this direction but always makes it feel likely in retrospect. Some bits weren't exactly foreshadowed in obvious manner but still make everything fit just a bit better, and the filmmakers are able to keep these from stopping the movie because there's a perfect logic to it and a bit more to do afterward, until there isn't, because the audience can see where things have gotten too tangled to resolve cleanly..

That all works in large part because everything before it was impressively human foibles. Compassion will mess with even the perfect crime, and nobody here is much of a criminal mastermind, or even really much of a criminal. Lind is put up against a few dependable character actors, with Will Patton and Elisabeth Röhm doing especially nice jobs of highlighting the way that their characters are Not Leigh despite potentially being reflections of her, while still letting the audience see their perspectives. Jared Ivers gets to do a nice job of making Ryan into more than just a responsibility holding Leigh in place - though often sort of a typically sullen early teen, there's always some reminder that what put Leigh in a bad position has affected him too, if in a different way.

The endless morass of getting pulled down by trying to do right things true, especially in this middle-of-nowhere spot where there probably isn't enough of anything to go around, and sentiment really will sink you as much as greed. Director Matthew Pope and co-writer/producer Don M. Thompson never give Leigh's town a name but give it a sense of place in that is no place, the sort of town that people once drove through on the way to somewhere else but now the highway makes that unnecessary.

Take all that and then cut until there's no fat left, and you've got a fine modern/small-town noir. "Blood on Her Name" is a small, sometimes simple film, but it's had people worrying over it until it's the sort of well-made B-movie that makes for a delightful discovery when you come upon it when looking for something else.

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