Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Bleeding House - 2011

Director:                      Philip Gelatt
Screenplay:                 Philip Gelatt
Original Music:            Hildur Guodnadottir

Cinematography:       Frederic Fasano
Production Design:   Jaime Phelps
Art Direction:              Alessandro Ciari and
                                         A.V. Perkins
Set Decoration:          A.V. Perkins

Gloria                    Alexandra Chando
Nick                       Patrick Breen
Marilyn                  Betsy Aidem
Quentin                 Charlie Hewson
Matt                       Richard Bekins
Lynne                    Nina  Lisandrello
Officer Bayne       Henderson Wade
Officer Schmidt    Court Young
Beth                       Victoria Dalpe

A house in flames -someone is standing nearby watching it burn.  Another house stands quietly in the middle of a peaceful countryside. 

“The Bleeding House” is a new film which premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival in NY.  Directed and written by first-timer Philip Gelatt, it is of the thriller/slasher variety, but it has a lot more style than most slasher flicks these days.  While there are a number of clichés in the script, there are also enough surprises and twists to make it worthwhile. 

The peaceful house we saw earlier is the home of our soon-to-be-in-peril family.  It has a shabby and neglected appearance.  On entering, we immediately feel the atmosphere of angst and tension.  In their isolation each member of this dysfunctional clan is keeping secrets, not just from the outside world but also from each other.  There are lots of small secrets and one big, woppin’ heck of a doozy that seems to be the cause of their banishment from society.

Older son Quentin longs to break free of this stifling prison.  He makes plans with his girlfriend to get away and start a new life.  Too bad he has waited a bit too long to finally make a decision.

Teenaged daughter Gloria, nick-named Blackbird for some reason, is locked in her room.  She barely speaks and her affect is so flat she seems almost catatonic. She has managed to catch a bird and keeps it in a makeshift cage in her room.  Does she keep it for some small companionship or for a more sinister reason?  The walls of her room are decorated with dead insects, pinned to pieces of paper.  Charming.

Mother Marilyn is an artist and the glue tying to hold the family together while she is working on her last nerve.  When we first see her, she is in her attic studio.  When she spills a jar of bright red paint it spreads over her table and stains her apron.  When she comes downstairs to fix dinner she looks like she has been cutting throats.  She also cuts up everyone’s dinner in the kitchen as all the knives are under lock and key.  Hmmm.

Father Matt is out of a job and his situation has something to do with the Big Secret.  He is an attorney, trying to get his old position back at the firm.  This is his last chance; it’s their last chance to resume their place in the community and return to normal.   He tells his wife not to worry, the world can change.  He’s right.  Oh boy, is he right.

A stranger knocks on their door one evening recounting the old chestnut about his car breaking down on the road and would they let him use their phone.  The stranger is smooth and charming, but anyone who has seen horror movies before would know you do not invite a charming stranger into your isolated farmhouse.  However, they do invite him to dinner and to spend the night.   The family has been ostracized from the rest of the community for so long they are desperate for any kind of human contact.  Mother and father also think that if they demonstrate that they are kind, good Samaritans, they will be able to redeem themselves with the town.

The stranger’s name is Nick.  When asked what he does, he answers, “I cut people up”.  A shocked silence is followed by laughter when he explains that he is a surgeon.  He also expounds on some pretty creepy religious views.  And he smiles just a little too much. 
However, both parents are charmed by this man, and there is even a hint that Marilyn may have plans for a seduction later in the evening.  She nervously shows him her studio…and let’s just say the seduction does not pan out.  Her work table now has her blood spreading over it- the real McCoy this time, not paint. 

Nick styles himself as a wandering savior, traveling the country searching for troubled families whom he assists in facing the truth about themselves and getting past their difficulties.  Permanently.  He “has duties to perform” and seems to have found a family made to order for his particular pseudo religious psycho kink.  He is especially interested in Gloria and seems to see in her a kindred spirit.

Gloria is the only member of the family who is suspicious of the stranger although her motives and thoughts are inscrutable.  The actress playing Gloria does a very good job keeping us in the dark about Blackbird.  We’re not sure if she is mentally backward, or schizophrenic, or possibly the only one in the house with her head firmly screwed on about their situation as the violence escalates.  She creates what appears to be a very fragile character who reveals inner strength when needed. 

Some of the clichés I mentioned at the top which might try your patience are:
1. The rock stupid cops who don’t take it seriously when another character screams at them, “DON’T GO IN THERE!!!” 
2. The character who escapes, runs through the woods to get help, but is persuaded to come back where she started and get killed. 
3.  We are shown the hiding place of a weapon that a character will reach for later on, but only after the murderer has found it himself.  
4.  The guy who hears a noise and goes to investigate, leaving his girlfriend alone in the basement.

A few other problems that I found annoying were - camerawork suddenly in and out of focus, but not in an arty way, it merely loses focus.  The background music did about 50% of the job a soundtrack should do – it stayed out of the way.  However, I really never noticed it at all (and I was trying to), so I don’t think it contributed either. 

The film has a flat look, which is surprising since it was shot with Red Digital equipment.  I don’t pretend to be a techie of any sort, but I would expect a deeper and more subtle look to the finished product.  The camerawork is also pretty static most of the time, to the point where during some scenes I would swear that the camera was nailed to the floor.  One scene in particular that could have had the tension ramped up by some movement, or even cuts, wound up looking like the second act of a filmed play.  Even a filmed play doesn’t have to look like a filmed play.

Speaking of plays, the dialogue is often so juicy, dramatic and wordy, I was reminded of a Grand Guignol version of Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill, particularly in the big confession scenes.  

Now for the good stuff.  The acting ranges from serviceable to really fine.  Patrick Breen, who plays our charming madman is excellent.  He manages something pretty tricky for any actor:  He maintains his crazy, smarmy intensity throughout without becoming tiresome.  This character is completely evil and without any shred of remorse or pity, but somehow Mr. Breen manages to keep him watchable.  As I said above, Alexandra Chando who plays Gloria is also very good (she also looks a bit like Katie Holmes).  Richard Bekins as Matt convincingly conveys a man who has nothing left, and Betsy Aidem shows us that Marilyn is working with her last shred of nervous energy before she completely cracks. 

Even with a few clichés the plot has some twists that I didn’t see coming.  This is an entertaining film that is worth catching on VOD or on disc.  I think you will find it has enough to keep you interested until the house has shed its very last drop of blood. 


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