Bleeding House: Horror Film

Philip Gelatt’s directorial debut, “The Bleeding House,” is a horror movie with more brains than the usual, but it comes up short in several departments. The film displays a sick but welcome humor in its unrelieved grimness and grisliness, but there’s something too theoretical and unfocused about this endeavor.

This is the kind of movie where, if the killer gets stabbed in the leg, we get close-ups of him painstakingly sewing his wound back up. If the killer is going to fell his prey by draining their blood, we get close-ups of the needles going into their arms.

Occasionally, Gelatt goes for something more sophisticated, more literary. “The Bleeding House” is at once reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games,” and more than a little indebted to Flannery O’Connor’s work in redemptive violence.

Gelatt combines the religiously minded psychopath of yore—this time a Southern gentleman, Nick (Patrick Breen)—with a new-generation killer only in it for the kicks—a disturbed teenager and natural born killer named Gloria, who only answers to Blackbird (Alexandra Chandro).

Will Nick become Blackbird’s mentor? Or has Nick finally met his match—someone much more cutthroat than himself?

Gelatt quickly builds a creepy mood as he introduces us to the Smiths, a nuclear family that is traipsing around some traumatic past never to be discussed. The Smiths are creepy, but they also come off annoyingly self-absorbed and bland.

The parents have indefinitely imprisoned their teenage son, Quentin (Charlie Hewson), and daughter, Blackbird, at home in their never-seen small town, Dad Matt (Richard Bekins) pronounces early on that “small towns have long memories,” but that is not where this film is headed. Too bad—without any context, we are never convinced of the family’s outsider status. It’s a drawback in a film that depends on us buying the Smiths as a genuine freak show.

Blackbird likes to kill insects and, we learn, birds and pets, but she is too much of a question mark to arouse much of our sympathy or fear. She is the central character in “The Bleeding House,” but Gelatt gives us few cues as to whether we should pin our hopes on her or cover our eyes whenever we see her coming. Without her being the one character we can relate to, there is no one else to care about in “The Bleeding House.” Nothing is at stake.

One night, after another strained dinner in the Smith family household, stranger Nick shows up in a white suit looking for someplace to spend the night. He wins the parents over and scores entry into Chez Smith by acting completely like one of those polite traveling killers from the South—another point where Gelatt, who also wrote the screenplay, drops the ball. The parents are that clueless?

The fun and games are underway as Nick eliminates one family member after another, leaving Blackbird, in whom he senses a kindred spirit, for last. As the family’s dark past is slowly revealed—proving to not be so compelling—we get glimpses of Nick’s back-story as well. When he takes off his shirt to reveal his back covered in brutal scars, he proudly lets us know that this is “not my first rodeo, I’m afraid.”

But we remain unswayed. Breen’s performance as Nick is more stiff than scary, and his Southern accent falters; this monster needs more training.

Gelatt has ambitions to make a statement about America in the age of terror, but he does not go far enough. Nick has one line about “righting the spinning whirl of this country” and another in which he claims to be the “soul of this country. I am its glorious past, and I am its future.” But what does it mean exactly?

“The Bleeding House” wants to be a heady horror movie, but only gets about halfway there.

Cast

Blackbird – Alexandra Chandro

Nick – Patrick Breen

Lynn – Nina Lisandrello

Quentin – Charlie Hewson

Marilyn – Betsy Aidem

Matt – Richard Bekins

Credits

A Tribeca Film release.

Directed and written by Philip Gelatt.

Written by Jennie Snyder Urman.

Produced by Peter Askin, Will Battersby, Per Melita, and Tory Tunnell.

Cinematography, Frederic Fasano.

Editing, Patrick Burns Jr.

Original Music, Hildur Guonadottir.

Running time: 86 minutes.