The unrelenting, brutally realistic, and “Hard-R” feature, Bloodline, from director Henry Jacobson, examines the atrocities of a serial killer from a unique perspective. Rather than the stereotypical villain who inhumanely preys on the weak and helpless out of sheer wickedness, the focus of this story, written by Jacobson, Avra Fox-Lerner, and Will Honley, is a murderer who targets those he deems worthy of “justice.” Evan (Seann William Scott) is a high school counselor with a dark, troubled past of his own, who is sickened by the horrific family lives of his students. The cruel abuse these teenagers face at the hands of their family members and close friends, without any true consequence, is impossible for Evan to ignore. In a twisted approach to enforcing authority, Evan sets out to give these despicable individuals a taste of the pain and suffering they have inflicted upon their own victims.
This type of character is hard to categorize in many ways. One could compare Evan’s approach to justice to the anti-hero methods employed by Marvel Comics’s Frank Castle (The Punisher). but, Evan appears as even more volatile, unstable, and sadistic. While Castle wants to see the bad guys get their dues, he moves on to his next target rather quickly. On the other hand, Evan relishes his treatment of these criminals. The heinous deeds committed by these individuals are indefensible, but Evan’s barbarity is impossible to look past. His torture procedures are physical, psychological, and emotional. This is, of course, incredibly difficult to watch, and makes the viewer extremely uncomfortable. Yet, this appears to be precisely the impact desired by the director. Henry Jacobson wanted to get under the audience’s skin and make them ask tough questions about their outlook on the world around them. No human should administer such cruelty upon another in the way Evan treats his victims, but, then again, these people are abusers themselves. Evan is not justified in his treatment of these offenders, but would they continue to get away with their vile activities if Evan did not permanently put a stop to them? What if someone could possibly accept Evan’s lawless approach of removing these figures from the equation, but not necessarily his savagery? This is certainly an intense grey area that will unsettle many viewers, and will probably even turn some off completely. Still, Jacobson seemed to know exactly what he was doing with this production effort, and to be fully aware of the risks involved.
To add another volatile element to the mix of Evan’s life, his wife, Lauren (Mariela Garriga), has just given birth to their first child, a baby boy. Lauren is totally unaware of her husband’s psychopathic habits, which may or may not sit well with certain viewers. It can be difficult to imagine that she would be this clueless, but Evan is so particularly clinical and efficient with his double-life that it is hard to place too much blame on Lauren’s obliviousness. Additionally, as a new mother, there is an entire new host of worries to occupy her mind. In some instances, what she might perceive as slightly abnormal behavior from her husband is easy to brush aside when considering the emotional turmoil that often comes when a couple has their first child. With the emphasis remaining on Evan’s family, it is important to point out his mother, Marie (Dale Dickey). Without venturing into spoiler territory, suffice it to say there is a reason why this feature is titled Bloodline. The history and backstory of Evan and Marie’s relationship is critical to the overall arc of the narrative. The filmmakers set out to depict the darkest corners of the horror genre, all through a lens focused on a family’s interactions. This compelling angle on the horror classification was certainly effective in its aim to make the viewer shiver with chilling allure.
Turning attention now to the physical and technical filmmaking aspects, the homages to famous horror classics such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho or any of Brian de Palma’s grisly, blood-spattered films are quite apparent. Bloodline literally opens with a modernized “shower scene,” obviously a direct tribute to Hitchcock. While some viewers might perceive this as a blatant, unoriginal rip-off, Jacobson presumably viewed it as a blood-soaked love letter to one of his idols. As for the de Palma comparison, expect plenty of free-flowing blood, gore, and convincing makeup and prosthetics. Husband and wife duo Josh and Sierra Russell supervised the special makeup effects in Bloodline, producing some genuinely startling sequences and imagery. This is not even to mention one of the most realistic birth scenes you will ever see on film. Investigating how they managed this visual effect so authentically is probably not a downward spiral most viewers will want to subject themselves to, but it is very impressive in its striking realism. As for other technical elements that lent to the suspenseful atmosphere and ambiance, the techno, synthesizer-heavy musical score from Trevor Gureckis was efficacious in its bizarre, eerie tone. The tension and fear of an eruption of violence at any moment was palpable. Contributing to this aura was Director of Photography Isaac Bauman, with an excellent grip on lighting techniques, color palette selections, and dark, shadowy framing. There was a constant sense of dread and unease around every corner.
Even as certain sections of the screenplay grow repetitive, such as Evan’s cyclical “hunting” habits, Bloodline will keep audience members absorbed, so long as they can handle the grim, concerning, and unpleasant subject matter. This film is for a select group of very mature viewers, and even some of this crowd might be dissatisfied with certain narrative twists and a somewhat ambiguous conclusion. Nevertheless, Blumhouse Productions deserves credit for allowing Henry Jacobson unrestrained creative control on a gusty project such as this one. Intending one’s film for such a narrow audience takes bold confidence and tenacity, but those going in with an open mind and a stomach of steel may yet find something to appreciate in Bloodline.
In theaters, on VOD, and digital September 20th, 2019.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.