Loosely related to dramas like Frozen River, in which the perils inherent to the working-class crime film are complicated by single motherhood, Matthew Pope's Blood on Her Name watches as a woman's attempt to rid herself of a dead body soon has her wishing she'd just called the cops on herself. A tense debut built around a compelling lead performance by Bethany Anne Lind, it benefits from a couple of graceful storytelling flourishes and a persuasive sense of character. Prospective distributors shouldn't take its Fantasia premiere as a sign that its audience is limited to genre die-hards.
Leigh Tiller (Lind) runs a failing auto garage once owned by her now-incarcerated husband. Her widowed father Richard (Will Patton) is the town sheriff, but some rift between the two leaves Leigh fairly stranded in this isolated town; the closest thing she has to a friend may be Rey (Jimmy Gonzales), the only mechanic she's able to keep on payroll. But Rey's duties don't include dead-body disposal.
The body is dead from the start. The movie will only explain how he got that way piecemeal over its running time, like a dishonest witness whose story can't hold up under cross-examination. What's clear immediately is that Leigh panics, and the first steps she takes to cover things up doom her to what follows — if only because her humanity keeps her from behaving as a killer would: She has the dead man in a boat and is ready to toss him into a lake when the phone in his pocket chimes with voicemail. Turns out he has a son who's worried that he didn't come home last night. Leigh can't let him and the boy's mother spend their lives wondering if the man just ran off. She risks a lot to leave the body where they will find it; then, far from the evidence, she realizes she may have left bread crumbs that will lead back to her.
Lind navigates an emotional minefield as Leigh spends the next day or two trying to dig herself out of this jam. There's her concern for her son Ryan (Jared Ivers), a teenager who's already on probation and may be headed toward his dad's fate; her resentment for the father she's forced to leave Ryan with; and her need to keep Rey from deducing why she's suddenly so irritable and secretive around the garage. In his smaller role, Gonzales stands out as the story's most morally uncompromised character; Rey wants to help before he knows what the problem is, and the actor projects a concern complicated by the things Rey accidentally oversees. (In between attempts to fix the mess she's in, Leigh does some illicit self-medicating.)
If Pope and Don M. Thompson's script is a little coy about how the man in the garage got himself dead, the parallel mystery of what lingers between Leigh and her father unfolds more gracefully. Pope offers nicely staged flashbacks, some drug-induced, in which Leigh witnesses childhood trauma from multiple perspectives. Leigh's present-tense problems may all trace back to her trying to protect others — innocent bystanders, a dead man's loved ones, a son who may soon have two parents in prison. But when the film's title hints at an original sin responsible for all this grief, it's no misdirection.
Venue: Fantasia Film Festival
Production company: Rising Creek
Cast: Bethany Anne Lind, Will Patton, Jimmy Gonzales, Jared Ivers, Jack Andrews, Elisabeth Rohm
Director: Matthew Pope
Screenwriters: Don M. Thompson, Matthew Pope
Producers: Matthew Pope, Don M. Thompson
Director of photography: Matthew Rogers
Production designer: Russ Williamson
Costume designer: Dana Konick
Editor: M.R. Boxley
Composers: Brooke Blair, Will Blair
Casting directors: Sunday Boling, Meg Morman