Parish Malfitano’s Bloodshot Heart opens in sun dappled Super 8, clear skies and endless horizon as waves crash gently to the shore. The score is lilting and sinister, and it is immediately apparent that this scenic vista is not nearly the peaceful idyll it seems. When reverie is undercut by the intrusion of reality, the audience is immediately clued in to how deep that divide is.
Hans (producer Richard James Allen, doing double duty) is a middle aged driving instructor, his daydreaming a coping mechanism for the tedium of marking the results of yet another student’s failed attempt at passing their road test. Rather than sunny shores, he lives in a nondescript Australian suburb. An Italian immigrant, he doesn’t have much in the way of family or friends in his adopted country.
Aside from two brutish brothers that are his coworkers at the driving school, Hans spends most of his time catering to the exacting needs of his overbearing mother, Catherine (Dina Panozzo). Hans’ father died some years before, and the pair share a small apartment. Catherine has creepily groomed her son to be a replacement confidant, tasking him with fulfilling her emotional needs at the expense of his own.
From this slight premise, Bloodshot Heart spins outward into an aesthetically lush kaleidoscope of fractured narrative. Susan Lumson’s cinematography and Ola Turkiewicz’s forlorn scoring make ordinary places feel foreboding, despite the majority of the film taking place in broad daylight. Between costuming, set design and some solid uses of color gels, the movie has a visually interesting, vividly saturated color palette.
Hans’ increasing rage is usually clothed in rich blood red, while the imperious Catherine prefers a deep royal purple. Matilda’s selection of jackets and day dresses are all sunny shades of yellow, the merest flash of which is enough of a trigger to send Hans spiraling deeper into his own delusions.
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While very clearly shot in Australia, Parish Malfitano‘s direction does a surprisingly adept job of both establishing the unique traits of the locations, while still placing them in easily recognizable visual traditions of 60s and 70s genre fare (both the American and European variety). If a few of those choices perhaps read as blunt homage to the likes of Argento, Lynch and DePalma, it can be chalked up to the obvious excitement of a first time filmmaker fresh out of film school. Malfitano is a touch too eager to show off his cinephile bona fides, but he did learn his visual lessons fairly well.
Is Matilda who she claims to be? Did the lost love Hans perceives her to be ever exist? How much of Hans’ fractured psyche is Catherine directly responsible for, and how much of her emotionally incestual mothering is misguided protectionism for her obviously fragile son?
Bloodshot Heart’s narrative leaves its central questions ambiguous and its narrator wholly unreliable. It shares a central ambition with 2012’s Berberian Sound Studio. Both films attempt to pare giallo down to essential elements (from psychosexual obsessions and toxic families to psychotic breaks masked in psychedelica and color symbolism), and let the plot exist primarily in the negative space between the various unconnected dots.
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While Parish Malfitano’s visual direction shows a lot of potential for a small budget debut feature, his self penned script is probably the biggest giveaway as to his relative inexperience. Despite strong performances from all 3 leads( Dina Panozzo’s Catherine in absolute, scene devouring particular), the script often leaves them all dressed up without anywhere of emotional weight to go.
Catherine’s suffocating will is illustrated within the first 5 minutes of the movie. Within 15 minutes Hans pours his meds down the drain, and shortly afterward is insisting Matilda is actually Sarah, who may or may not be a figment of his frustrated, sexually confused imagination.
There’s no build up of tension, no gradual descent into darkness from perceived normalcy. The list of sexually repressed male protagonists in genre film with obvious toxicity toward women is a long one, and we never really learn enough about Hans for him to stand out in the crowd.
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This lack of emotional regulation leaves the middle section of the film stuck in an odd neutral, adding complication without explanation. Given the fever pitch at which the characters are initially set, Bloodshot Heart is unable to logically raise the stakes any higher until the final third, which skirts right to the edge of a coal black form of camp.
Depending on your tolerance for the inspirations at hand, you’ll either find Bloodshot Heart a worthy modern homage to the subgenre of black leather gloves and blacker family secrets, or a bit frustratingly hollow at the core. There’s a tantalizing peek at a modern update to a familiar giallo groove in all of this surreal, stylish dreamscape, even if it never quite manages to fully grip the audience by the throat.
Wicked Rating: 6/10