“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heaves, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was, but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit.”
“The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe, 1839.
Writer/director Patrick Picard’s first feature film, The Bloodhound, is a modern adaptation of Poe’s Usher in concept, but not entirely in execution. Picard himself mentions in the liner notes of the Arrow Video Blu-ray release that his film, “… is a perverse and unfaithful adaptation …” His reasoning being that in all the adaptations before it, the creators infused something of themselves into it. That Poe’s Usher is “… a canvas for any storyteller to project their own ideas.” Whether you agree or disagree on Picard’s view of adaptations, specifically this one, there’s no denying that Picard’s is a strong one; one which utilizes Poe’s story to craft something modern and timeless, all at once; something that doesn’t terrify you, not in the ways horror generally does, but creeps under your skin, cooling you, rather than heating you up, until you are near frozen with the same existential crisis which befalls Picard’s characters. The film was initially released December 1st, 2020, and Arrow Video has been tapped to execute the home release and it’s a fine one, if not exactly robust, including what you expect in a manner you might not.
Having befallen a case of terminal malaise, Jean Paul Luret (Joe Adler) reaches out to childhood friend Francis (Liam Aiken) in hopes that Francis would stay a while as caretaker and companion. Upon arrival to Jean Paul’s (J.P.) home, Francis learns that it’s not just J.P. who is sick, but his twin sister Vivian (Annalise Basso), and that neither she nor he have left the property for some time. Instructed to leave Vivian alone at all times, Francis runs errands for the things which cannot be delivered and maintains the home when not caring for J.P. What should be a simple reunion turns dark, however, as the Luret family home has a way of creeping into the subconscious, making the waking life and dreaming one intertwine until what is known may be imaginary and what is imaginary the stuff of nightmares.
Picard’s The Bloodhound is a film of ideas and themes. There is a story, but it’s the concepts which drive it from start to finish. Within the walls of the Luret home, structured in such a way as to lack any kind of compass inside, reality is a loose concept. Part of this is established by J.P. who describes his condition as including a failing short term memory and an inability to separate actual events from dreams. As a result, J.P. is constantly looking backward and inward. In concert with his terminal diagnosis, there is no future or concrete present, only a mirage which flits and dances with reality. Picard’s narrative uses J.P.’s lack of anchor as the bases for twisting and turning the audience around via Francis, who serves as the audiences surrogate in many ways.
To illuminate Picard’s illusive reality for the audience, several beautiful tricks are laid out which, even in the knowing, we and Francis fall prey toward. Part of this is due to cinematographer Jake Magee (The Mountains Are a Dream That Call to Me) to bringing out the natural tones in the walls and furniture while washing out the characters. Additionally, Magee utilizes some intriguing concepts to highlight growing intensity or apprehension (persistent tight shots) or overwhelming unfamiliarity (still camera combined with shifting perspective that imply being out of one’s depth). Nothing is accented with special effects twists, so that the rising discomfort of prolonged exposure to the Lurets seems as natural as time. Another is the Luret home itself, which is dressed in a seventies style, the home totally outfitted with several contrivances of antiquity that mark neither period nor era. The almost labyrinthine house is shot so that the audience knows of specific parts but never how they fit together. Even the cast, young individuals themselves, speak a more mature, aged dialect that fits in more keenly with Poe than 2020, the year the film was originally released. Add to this the CRT television, the black-and-white movie J.P. and Francis watch on it, as well as other aspects of their interactions, and there’s a general sense that whatever year it is outside never penetrated the walls within. As a guest of the house, Francis is far more inclined to acquiesce to the rules stipulated by J.P. (it’s the polite thing to do), yet, by doing, he, too, becomes restricted to the energy within.
What some may find … off-putting isn’t quite the word, but close enough … off-putting about The Bloodhound is that it’s so phantasmagorical, so driven by dread, yet lacks the expected thrills of today’s horror. In fact, J.P. more-or-less lays out how the story will go within the first few moments of reconnecting with Francis, so that all the audience can do is wait. Wait for the audience to grow comfortable within the walls. Wait for J.P’s visions to reshape our perspective. Wait for J.P.’s story to be realized amid reality-bending dreams or reality bent by dreams, none of which is truly confirmed. Truly, nothing about The Bloodhound griped me while watching it, but, upon waking at 4:30a the following morning, a strange feeling of someone staring, watching me washed over. So much so that even checking behind the doors and turning on lights (Crystal had long sense taken the baby to a different room) didn’t prevent the terrible notion from entering my mind that as I lay in bed, trying to go back to sleep, someone was kneeling by the bed watching me. It if were the titular Bloodhound, a figure whom J.P. imagines (or does he?) that lives within the walls of homes while a great disruption exists there, then I was truly and completely safe. Yet why did my skin crawl at the thought of it? This is where The Bloodhound succeeds. Not in the act of ingestion, but in the lingering thereafter.
The Bloodhound being a debut feature won’t have the usual refinements one expects from, say, an older release. In this case, the film comes with two audio options (5.1 and 2.1), optional subtitles, and a commentary track from Picard and editor David Scorca. Considering quite a bit of the communicated disconnect with time that the narrative cultivates does involve editing, this audio track is likely to come up with a few delectable tidbits regarding methodology and intent. This audio track can be accessed from either the audio set-up or the special features options. In the special features, as well, are four short films from Picard (none of which served as the springboard for The Bloodhound) which allow the audience a look at the director’s early work. For folks who really enjoyed the film, the recommended first stop is the 45-minute making-of featurette “On the Trail of The Bloodhound” which mashes up interviews with cast and crew to offer insight and additional details about the creation of the film. For instance, Picard already had a relationship with AFI and, thanks to that, were able to obtain additional resources to complete the film. This includes access to their soundstage so that they could create a vault that could be presented as accessible to the house and allow them to shoot what they needed within their budget. One particularly fun bit that’s fascinating to hear them discuss is the execution of a tarp over the house they shot in as a means of increasing productivity by not limiting their shooting schedule to night shoots. What better way to invoke the feeling of night during the day than creating it artificially without special effects. Information like this is always why I love a good bonus feature. Ideally, they enhance the viewing experience by offering the kinds of insights which deepen the appreciation of a project without disturbing the illusion while watching the film. If you’re able to get a first pressing edition of The Bloodhound, it comes with liner notes that contain an essay from film critic Anton Bitel of Projected Figures, a state from Picard about The Bloodhound and his short films, and a brief note about the transfer itself. Again, the liner notes are only included in the first pressing, so if that interests you, snag a copy quickly.
As stated, The Bloodhound isn’t a film you’re going to stop and immediately start raving about. In fact, should you feel compelled to speak ill of it, I would encourage you to wait. Wait like J.P. does for his solitary existence to end. Wait like Francis for the opportunity to break free. Wait like The Bloodhound, intent to emerge only when there is peace and calm. Allow yourself to *feel* Picard’s work and then, then, say what you will. The work may not pull you in like Poe’s story, but, given Picard’s flair, it will certainly persist.
Bloodhound Special Features
- High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Brand new audio commentary by director Patrick Picard and editor David Scorca
- Four experimental short films by director Patrick Picard: bad dream, the muffled hammerfall in action, the mosaic code, and wiggleworm
- On the Trail of The Bloodhound: Behind the Scenes of a Modern Chiller, exclusive 45-minute making-of featurette
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anton Bitel
Available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video March 23rd, 2021.
For more information or to purchase a copy, head to MVD Entertainment Group.
For more information on the film, head to Yellow Veil Pictures’s official Bloodhound website.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.