Southern gothic tends to be the forgotten part of the horror genre. The Southern gothic story has seen something of a renaissance in recent years, however. HBO’s adaption of Sharp Objects took the genre to the Midwest while Sofia Copolla’s 2017 remake of The Beguiled received critical acclaim. Blood on Her Name is a 2019 film that brings a neo noir feel to the genre.
Director Matthew Pope’s debut is about a troubled woman named Leigh. The single mother has accidentally killed a man. It seems like it is just a matter of calling the authorities. What follows is a series of revelations and twists set against a brooding Southern atmosphere. After failing to dispose of the body, her conscious leads her to make decisions she may soon live to regret.
One of the most important aspects of Southern gothic tales are broken characters. Blood on Her Name follows this formula by making sure every person in the movie is sullied in some way. This immediately adds to the movie’s atmosphere. Good and bad are almost irrelevant in this world. There is only bad and bad who are momentarily slightly less flawed.
This means the story becomes more important. Since the audience does not have a character they can truly get behind, they movie’s mysteries take on greater importance. Written by Don M. Thompson and director Matthew Pope, Blood on Her Name is actually two puzzles. They are both explored in separate ways that move the plot.
The first question is the most obvious. How did Leigh end up killing a man? Blood on Her Name goes about exploring this question in a different way than most noirs. As is expected, clues and revelations unravel over the course of the film’s relatively short runtime. The difference here is the study of Leigh that the movie provides along the way.
This leads into the second mystery in Blood on Her Name. Instead of getting rid of the body (in a nice bit of location development, this is brought up by various characters), Leigh decides to inform the dead man’s body. It seems like it would be a simple thing to do, but the film reveals the people would have preferred and expected Leigh to make a different choice.
It is a question of morality and upbringing and asks a far more interesting question. What happened to Leigh in her youth that has burdened her with a conscious? Blood on Her Name explores this through flashbacks and comments. This becomes the more intriguing part of the story. It may not explain why a person is dead, but it may explain everything the circumstances around his death.
The atmosphere is also enhanced by great lighting. Blood on Her Name has a consistent grey look to it. It looks as if the harried citizens of the movie’s world are living under one constantly cloudy day. The score also adds tension to the movie. Only coming in at the right moments, the music is never overdone. The movie’s emphasis on story is aided by this use of sound.
Blood on Her Name is a slow burn that carefully tells its story. There is nothing wrong with this as it gives the audience more time to know the characters and setting. The problem is with movie’s various reveals. They are anticlimactic and lack the punch they should have. After doing such a great job of building its world, the movie just throws the answers out there. The ending also becomes a little too twist heavy.
Matthew Pope has directed a movie that has a lot going for it. Great location and characters are enhanced by a story with dual mysteries that tie together. The patient storytelling will draw its audience into the tale. Unfortunately, the methodical pacing leads to an explosive finale that goes with lackluster surprises instead of strong storytelling.
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