Henry Jacobson's feature debut, Bloodline, features a finely calibrated performance from Sean William Scott and tremendous practical effects. Offering venture deep into the psyche of a killer with moral aspirations the film doesn’t quite delve as deep as one might hope when all is said and done.
Scott stars as Evan, a new father and school social worker who works with at risk students. Evan's intense focus for kids with abusive family members leaks into his evening extra curricular activities as he hunts the abusers and murders them with extreme prejudice; but not before attempting to make them confess their shortcomings. As Evan's violent nocturnal instincts begin to have a ripple effect in his marriage, his own violent upbringing begins to surface, calling into question the paternal instinct believed necessary to sustain his family life.
While certain he's got the perpetrator the students confide in him about, Evan’s ritual of recording interrogations has a reaching point which often feels muddled within the film. We're not quite sure if this methodology is either Evan's personal need to have the victims face what they've done, force them to live in their shame before they die, or perhaps give Evan insight into the emotions he personally cannot feel so he may gain a better psychological picture of fatherhood. These would have all been fascinating to explore, but Jacobson jumps from grisly kill to grisly kill without ever truly tackling the questions. Rather, the film offers an intriguing dialogue within the kill scenes while never digging much deeper, letting Evan's knife do all the dirty work.
Believe you me, dirty work it is. The violence in Bloodline is quick and vicious. Often resulting in extreme closeups of sharp objects penetrating practical models and slicing through them like butter. Blood spray patterns appear that would make Dexter himself walk out of the room to hide his....excitement. Twice in fact we witness the murder of a nurse as she showers; the movie embracing its modern giallo aesthetic. As the girl suffers her killer's attack we watch in detail as blood continuously spurts from her neck. Having to witness this scene twice highlights some of the excess that Jacobson employs when it comes to sexual imagery. The camera lingers on a woman about to be murdered in a wide shot. Later in the film we witness graphic images of a woman giving birth while Evan has flashbacks of some of his bloodier kills. These two instances are not themselves offensive as to be exploitative sexually but questionable as to their value vis-a-vis shock and storytelling.
As Evan, Scott bucks the trend of buffoonish comedic character he has built a career on, but his performance is not particularly transcendent nor does it redefine him as an actor. He's great, but the emptiness in his eyes doesn't always feel genuine to that of a sociopath just as his character doesn't traditionally fit the bill. The film seems to be exploring perpetuating cycles of violence and the supporting performances offer a lens into abusive behavior. Yet the discourse begins with Evan simply asking the questions and ends with him using his knife to provide the punctuation. Combined with the film's finale, there's no concise finale or satisfying catharsis to hang your hat on outside of what seems to be the film’s overall thesis; you must protect your family at all costs. Even then, the means should justify the end and I'm not entirely sure Jacobson arrives at that destination.
Bloodline doesn't always feel focused on what it's trying to say. However, its bloodstained frames still paint an engaging cinematic experience with giallo inspirations and a striking synth score. Bloodline asks fascinating questions but in the end it lets the gore do most of the talking.