Written and Directed by: Philip Gelatt
Starring: Alexandra Chando, Patrick Breen, and Betsy Aidem
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“I am trying one house at a time to rectify these things…”
Home invasions are horrifying due to how inexplicable they can be; they’re often just random acts of violence, and many previous cinematic examples (like The Strangers and Funny Games) have had little rhyme nor reason behind them. The Bleeding House offers a different take on the subject: what if your home was invaded as part of some sort of karmic retribution for past sins?
The Smiths are a family with an all-American name, but they’re harboring a traumatic past. They’ve been ostracized from their small town circles, and the patriarch has lost his lucrative job as a lawyer. Their teenage daughter, Gloria (Alexandra Chando), is especially strange--she’s fascinated by mutilation and keeps a collection of dead animals in her room. One night, a charming stranger (Patrick Breen) arrives at their doorstep; his car has broken down, so he seeks refuge at the Smith residence. He also carries some dark secrets, and a malevolent intent to bring their past to light.
This movie sort of reminded me of that Joyce Carol Oates short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been.” That’s a similar tale about an all-too-nice stranger named Arnold Friend who charms his way into the home of a teenage girl while he hides sinister intentions; there’s something almost supernatural about Friend, as if he were some inevitable force to sent to punish transgressions. Breen’s antagonist in The Bleeding House operates in the same way: he’s silver-tongued, charming, suave and carries an old South debonair quality that makes him too nice and trustworthy. That should probably be a horror movie rule: if someone is too good to be true, they’re probably really some sick bastard. That rule is confirmed pretty quickly, as he takes little time in subjecting the Smith family to his sick tortures. He spills as many words as he does blood too; a really loquacious type, he calmly and coolly guts and slashes them. Breen’s performance is noteworthy in the way he practically carries the film; there seem to be very few scenes where his motor mouth isn’t at work.
His character also speaks to one of the film’s main weaknesses: it’s a bit predictable and unfolds a bit too tidily. Even though the film opens on a cold mystery and makes it clear that something is amiss with the Smiths, there’s little doubt that Breen is up to no good the minute he ambles into the film. The film tries its hands at withholding other secrets and possible shocks, but none of them are really all that effective. This doesn’t mean The Bleeding House doesn’t manage to still tell a solid story (it does)--it’s just one that you’ll be able to pin down pretty easily. This would be okay if it still managed to be suspenseful, but it’s not exactly great at creating tension, either. People run around and get chased, and there are plenty of moments where we’re half-heartedly imploring the characters to get the hell out of the house (or don’t run in the house in the first place); they don’t listen, of course (they never do).
There’s just something altogether flat about The Bleeding House; it’s well-made, particularly from a photographic standpoint. The bleak, dreary cinematography captures the necessary seclusion to make it all work from a setting standpoint. Acting is similarly solid across the board; Chando is a good, subdued counterpart to Breen. She’s not just painfully awkward, but also coldly detached from all of those around her. That cold detachment seems to carry over to the movie itself; it felt just a little bit too relaxed and never ramped up the necessary energy to draw me in like I wanted it too. It definitely slashed some throats on-screen, but it never quite grabbed mine.
Still, it’s interesting enough to warrant a look; the third act especially gets a bit cerebral and offers some moral quandaries. Some of the resolution works, some of it doesn’t--quite like the film as a whole. The Bleeding House premiered at Tribeca a couple of months ago, and it’ll bow on DVD in August courtesy of Tribeca Films and New Video. It’s one to be on the lookout for, especially if you like grisly morality tales about the immutability of secrets and sins. Rent it!
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