A devoted husband and father-to-be presents a milquetoast version of himself to the world and moonlights as a serial killer of bad people, following the same ritualistic killing pattern to keep his darker impulses from harming his family. The whole situation is played for darkly funny beats that edges into horror territory as the family man serial killer tries to walk a tightrope between domestic normalcy and continuing his gruesome nighttime practices. I hate to be obvious, but the shadow of Dexter looms large over BLOODLINE. While the film does find a few new wrinkles in the premise, the material is still very familiar.
Evan (Seann William Scott) is the serial killer hiding in plain sight. He works as a social worker in a public high school, counseling troubled teens. His wife Lauren (Mariela Garriga) is several months pregnant and has no clue of her husband’s extra-curricular activities. When the film starts, the only reason for tension between the happy couple is Evan’s concerned, circling mother Marie (Dale Dickey), who wants to move in and help them when the baby is born. Lauren understandably wants to get by without the help of her mother-in-law, but Evan is hesitant to tell the slightly domineering Marie this news.
One of the side benefits of Evan’s job is finding students who are being abused by family members and taking out his murderous fury on the despicable adults preying on weak children. Of course, the morality of only killing those who seemingly have it coming is not black-and-white, leading to one complication after another. This is especially true once the baby is born, Lauren suffers from post-partum depression, and Marie insinuates herself in her son and daughter-in-law’s lives with what appears to be questionable intent.
Despite how well worn the premise is, I honestly found myself enjoying BLOODLINE more than I expected. Co-writer/director Henry Jacobson captures the stress of being a new parent with some nifty sequences that recreate the feeling of near sleepless exhaustion afflicting both Evan and Lauren. The plot device of Evan using the students he is supposed to be helping to glean information on who his next victim will be is clever. And the whole film is shot through with a neon lighting style that cinematographer Isaac Bauman is able to pull off without going over-the-top.
Where BLOODLINE excels is in the inspired casting of Scott as a sociopath. Overall, in his career, I have found Scott to be a hyper actor who falls back on the same five or six physical tics and expressions to give a performance. Sometimes his shtick has worked for the role and sometimes it has not. Here, Jacobson gets him to slow down and just be a blank wall. He maintains the same tonal inflection he uses when asking canned questions of the students he counsels as he does when talking to his victims as he prepares to slash out their throats. The effect is honestly chilling without making him come off as a thuddingly obvious killer. At the same time, the role occasionally requires the sort of physical comedy beats that Scott has largely made his bread-and-butter, so he easily pulls off these moments for laughs without ever breaking the illusion that he is a remorseless killer.
While Garriga is mostly given the thankless role of devoted wife and mother who is starting to question what her husband is up to when he disappears at night, she is effective and sympathetic. Veteran character actor Dickey runs with one of the best roles of her career as she reveals layer after layer of not only what she knows about Evan’s dark side, but also what role she may have had in creating it. As the film goes on, her cagey performance creates tension as to whether she is trying to drive a wedge between Evan and Lauren or is attempting to protect her daughter-in-law.
While I did find plenty to like about BLOODLINE and am giving it a shaky recommendation, it makes several missteps. The film opens with a false mystery about the murder of a nurse that takes place in a shower for no reason other than to provide one of the more gratuitous nude scenes in a semi-mainstream movie that I can recall from recent memory. Considering the rest of the movie never goes in a completely trashy exploitation direction, it is a misguided way to start the film. There is an indication of possible incest in Evan and Marie’s past that is brought up and never mentioned again, seemingly included for unnecessary shock value. Several hazy flashbacks to Evan’s childhood with an abusive father are presented when one was enough to flesh out that very clichéd motivation for his murderous impulses.
Despite the missteps and lack of originality when it comes to the premise, BLOODLINE does maintain a shaggy dog sort of charm. It provides a chance for Scott to play winningly against type and stretches what looks like a very low budget in impressive ways. It is not for everyone and its moral compass feels a bit screwy at times, but if you accept the fact that it comes with several flaws, there is something compelling about the morbid humor on display.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)