Blood on Her Name opens with a scene of intense immediacy. A young woman stands above a man’s corpse lying in a pool of blood on the concrete floor of an auto body shop. She looks both wired and weary, then gradually realizes she needs to do something. Did she kill him? It’s not clear – but she definitely does not want the body found, and she wraps it in plastic and puts it in the trunk of a car. In the first few minutes of this rural Southern thriller, we know who did what, but not why.
We soon learn that Leigh (Ozark’s Bethany Anne Lind) owns and manages the auto body shop. Her teenage son Ryan (Jared Ivers) is on probation; Leigh is trying to help him stay on the straight and narrow by giving him odd jobs around the shop. Ryan’s dad is also in prison, and there’s a sense that Leigh is stuck in a bad situation not entirely of her own making. Head mechanic Rey (Jimmy Gonzales) is one of the only employees to stick with Leigh after news of her husband’s crimes caused the shop’s business to dip. Rey also looks after Ryan, as a sort of mentor. Leigh doesn’t have the look of a woman who would marry a criminal, nor someone who’d commit a ruthless murder. Her pale, fresh face calls to mind a virginal Jane Austen heroine, or a rom-com sweetheart. There’s a sense that her youthful promise and beauty cannot flourish in this broken, bedraggled place.
Leigh’s father Richard (the great character actor Will Patton) is a local cop, and their relationship is strained. There’s a suggestion that she disapproves of something corrupt he did in the past, and the irony of her own recent crimes and desperate attempts to cover them up, rather than contacting the authorities, make for some intriguing dramatic tension. It’s as if she’s too stubbornly angry at her father’s past sins to ask for his help.
Lind is such a skillful actress that the occasional implausibility and moral ambiguity of Leigh’s situation becomes compelling and rather suspenseful. We already know what she’s capable of, and yet as the narrative moves forward it’s clear she wants to avoid digging herself in any deeper. Things get complicated when Leigh has to face the dead man’s girlfriend (Elizabeth Rohm, in a powerful small role), another woman in desperate straits.
This feature debut of Matthew Pope, co-written with Don M. Thompson, is solid and well-produced. The moody cinematography and tense score give the film a satisfyingly mild horror vibe, but one where victims and heroes are not at all clearly defined. The film’s final denouement is as high-energy as its beginning, a conclusion that feels both shocking and inevitable. Blood on Her Name is less a story of redemption than one of resignation and regret.
“Blood On Her Name” is out Friday, February 28 in limited release and on demand.