Written by: Matt Patti | February 27th, 2020
Blood on Her Name (Matthew Pope, 2019) 2 out of 4 stars.
The quick tagline attached to most films can often be a powerful force. The catchy one-liner creates expectations that the film may divert from or never even live up to. When a film’s tagline is inaccurate, the film may either disappoint the audience or exceed their expectations in a pleasant surprise sort of way. I am typically a fan of films that go in an unexpected direction or shy away from their basic tagline. There are some cases, though, when a tagline creates such an expectation about what can be explored in a film that I find myself saddened that the film does not explore some of these possibilities. Unfortunately, Matthew Pope’s noir-thriller Blood on Her Name – its tagline reads “a woman’s panicked decision to cover up an accidental killing spirals out of control when her conscience demands she return the dead man’s body to his family” – functions as one of those cases.
Blood on Her Name opens with our main character, Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind), who is standing over a dead body in her car shop. She seems tense and quickly closes the garage door, wraps up the body, and puts it in her trunk. She has visible scars on her face but tells everyone she knows that they are a result of an intruder attacking her and that he ultimately “got away.” She then traverses her everyday life trying to keep the secret, her life already quite miserable with poor relations with her son and father … and her husband in jail. Soon, she starts to feel guilt and empathy for the dead man’s family and questions her choices. She even contemplates returning the man’s body to his family. Leigh knows that if she does that, however, she will risk paying the price and will not be able to protect her troubled son or herself.
My main issue with Blood on Her Name is that the writers focus on the why/what behind the incident more than the ramifications of said incident. Since the film opens with Leigh standing over the body, the audience does not know what happened and why the man is dead. So, naturally it sparks some curiosity and the writers take advantage of that. However, I found myself surprisingly not caring enough about why it happened. Whether Leigh had anything to do with it or not, whether it was an accident or not … she’s still trying to hide the body and is not telling anyone anything, which already gives me a negative view of her character. My view was not helped by the fact that Leigh is genuinely not a good person, or at least not presented as one. She has a terrible relationship with her father and a tense one with her son, her husband is in jail, and she seems to get into an argument with everyone she encounters. There are even hints at some terrible things she has done in the past. All of this on top of her now hiding a body leads to a character that is hard to sympathize with and root for.
Leigh also makes some terrible, stupid, boneheaded decisions in the first half of the film that make absolutely no sense and make it even more difficult to like her. In fact, it is hard to root for anyone in this film as everyone seems miserable, cold, and emotionless … and everyone makes similarly bad decisions. Lacking a standout character to connect with in this miserable town of fools is a large negative for the film. While the first half is a bit slow, lackluster, and full of confusing and ridiculous decisions, however, the second half of the film does pick up quite a bit. There is more tension and greater consequences for people’s actions, and even some clarity on some of the ludicrous decisions made by characters in the first act. When we start to understand why Leigh makes some of her decisions it gives more depth and personality to a character that was largely emotionless, irritable, and uninteresting in the first half of the runtime. However, she continues to make some questionable decisions and further loses some credibility.
Blood on Her Name is billed as a film that explores the desperation of covering up a sudden incident and the emotional consequences of making a tough decision, but unfortunately seldom explores those topics in favor of exploring the mystery of why the inciting events happened. What could be an emotional, intriguing character study is instead just another mystery film, except instead of a “whodunnit” it is a “whydunnit.” The decision to make our lead character an unlikeable, combative, struggling mother does not work for me. Leigh’s life is already a mess before this specific situation took place, but I think the film would be much more interesting if it were not. Exploring what a normal (or seemingly normal), successful, kind, confident person would do if placed in the same situation and watching them unravel into a shell of themselves would be much more intriguing and make for a much better film, in my opinion.
Blood on Her Name is by no means a bad film, it is just simply disappointing. It’s hard for me to say what is more upsetting: a film that isn’t expected to be very good turning out to be awful, or a film with so much promise and an interesting premise turning out pedestrian. The latter is the case with Blood on Her Name. It is a run-of-the-mill mystery drama with a few good twists and turns and some intriguing scenes that does not live up to the potential that its tagline builds up.