Having found its way into festival favor in the past year, Matthew Pope’s feature directing debut presents a stunning, dramatic glimpse into middle-American suburbia in cerebral crime drama, Blood On Her Name.
Opening with the shot of a tipped-over gas can, the movie begins with a follow-up shot of Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind), mildly wounded and struggling to compose herself after what appears to have been a physical struggle. A bloodied wrench lies next to the body of a seeming male assailant who is dead, his corpse lying in plain view of the open drive-in door of Leigh’s garage.
The film follows Leigh’s every desperate attempt to hide the body before eventually dumping it in the shed of the owners related to the corpse. It is during this process that Leigh’s actions continue to weigh heavily on her mind as it slowly begins to affect her day-to-day routine as a single mother, working at the garage with Rey (Jimmy Gonzales) and raising her only son, Ryan (Jared Ivers).
Try as she may to hide her torment, it remains plain as day to the viewer, with strong intuition more keen with her father, Richard (Will Patton), a cop unafraid to meander in the legal system’s blindspots and get his hands dirty if he ever needed to. It’s a trait that Richard has carried to date with his retirement on approach, and it also plays a huge role in the resentment Leigh has grown for him since her haunted childhood.
In their reluctant parlaying over letting Ryan see him, Richard presses her with questions, but never too much as Leigh’s own trauma takes shape, and the pressure becomes too much to handle. It’s those same barriers that have deeply affected her already tense relationship with the terse, confused and quietly frustrated Ryan who, to say the least, has problems of his own.
The film takes an even more climactic turning point when, as previously publicized notes on the film have described, Dani (Elisabeth Röhm), walks into Leigh’s garage with pained questions of her own. This is when it all starts to fall apart, and as Leigh’s panicked choices catch up to her, it’s only a matter of time before two desperate mothers find themselves in a deadly confrontation.
There’s much more to be taken from Pope’s Blood On Her Name, founded on its strong cast performances as led by the incomparable Lind. Her portrayal of Leigh is one of convolution, drawn directly from the film’s brilliant, unhampered script and story; She’s a well-meaning, albeit terrible person despite her careworn treatment of Ryan and her garage employee, Rey, and she can even be a pretty overwhelming bar patron, as one scene shows where an attempt for Leigh to escape into evening drunkeness ends quite unceremoniously, to say the least.
The mystery isn’t kept from the viewer too long as as Leigh’s ongoing torment segues into an emerging, pained resolve. The reasons for her actions become inevitably clearer, and undoubtedly more motivating as they are testing, that is, upon further introspection. The distinction even expands beyond similarities with respect to Leigh, and actress Röhm’s Dani character – both mothers who understand each other as equally as they fear one another. This dichotomical upheaval extends even further in a climatic moment between Leigh and Richard, encapsulating a brutal end for a story that attests to a message of compassion, tainted and yet invariably tangible.
Blood On Her Name brings fantastic talent to the forefront of Pope’s seething freshman murder drama, enveloped in a play of intriguing twists, startling revelations and a critical message that suggestively leaves plenty to debate and discuss as the closing credits roll.