Directorial debuts can be painstakingly difficult. From developing a tangible and enticing atmosphere, to the technicalities of writing, producing, and shooting, it is nearly impossible for someone to be perfect at their first attempt at filmmaking. That being said, Matthew Pope’s debut, Blood On Her Name, is able to do a lot given its budgetary constraints — however, it ultimately loses its initial momentum and falls flat.
Blood On Her Name begins on the cusp of an altercation at an autoshop. It is in this grim and uncharacteristically sterile environment that we encounter our protagonist, Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind), with a murder weapon in hand, standing above a dead man as he profusely bleeds on the floor. Pope doesn’t waste even a minute before bringing Leigh’s internal conflict to the screen, as it is immediately clear that she is responsible. She ponders anxiously for a moment before punching 911 into her cell phone — but she can’t bring herself to make the call. Instead, like all morally contentious movie criminals, she shuts the garage door, wraps the body in plastic, and places the victim in a car trunk.
This introductory sequence immediately speaks to Pope’s ability as a filmmaker — it is restrictive enough to envelop the audience into a tight, implicating embrace, but vague enough to grant some creative liberty surrounding the motive. Pope’s harrowing tone is unflinching throughout, which is ideal for any filmmaker, but an especially impressive feat for a newcomer. However, this tone is coupled with a slew of indifferent performances that do very little to foster Pope’s apparent vision.
Upon finding out that the man she killed had a girlfriend and a son, Leigh becomes hellbent on returning his body to their home in order to pacify her guilty conscience. This is one of her more questionable decisions, showcasing the toll this event is taking on her life, as well as alluding to Leigh’s own relationship with her teenage son (Jared Ivers), who has had his fair share of run-ins with the law. This relationship does not greatly serve the plot in any way; rather, it acts as further context to Leigh’s constant paranoia. Frankly, every moment that centers in on the surface level tension between Leigh and her son is a moment that would have been better spent divulging her past.
My biggest qualm with the film is more of an emotional, gut reaction than a quantifiable issue: substance. One of the many glories of independent cinema is the scramble to work on a low budget (which many would consider an art form itself). There is beauty in lo-fi filmmaking when it’s driven by creativity and passion. Ideally, a low-budget film should never actually feel like one if it succeeds at delivering its plot and themes persuasively. In the case of Blood On Her Name, you can feel the lack of resources. The film often makes the mistake of attempting to disguise itself as a blockbuster, when instead, it should have been embracing the thrill and allure of its indie confines.
It goes without saying that women are rarely privy to complex and gruesome roles like this one, so to see Leigh’s character written with even more complexity than her male counterparts is admirable, but it’s not nearly fleshed out enough to be excellent. Despite the sporadic flashbacks to Leigh’s convoluted childhood and her faltering present-day psyche, we are never truly able to become invested in her life. In its strongest moments, Blood On Her Name garners some empathy for its protagonist, but by the film’s end, it fumbles the tension that was brewing throughout.