2020, NR, 72 min. Directed by Patrick Picard. Starring Liam Aiken, Joe Adler, Annalise Basso, McNally Sagal.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Dec. 18, 2020
The first rule of Gothic fiction is: When a friend invites you to their empty house in the middle of nowhere through a missive laden with implications, don't go. Alas, Francis (Aiken) never got the memo, and so travels to the midcentury edifice that is home to his childhood friend, the pale and dissolute Jean Paul Lauret (Adler). Meanwhile sister Vivian Lauret (Basso), for whom Francis seemingly holds some less-than-platonic yearnings, has locked herself in her room, only emerging at night to awaken the house guest with enigmatic warnings, and citations from Ecclesiastes. That is, the house guest they know of or talk about. There's someone crawling out of the nearby shallow stream and hiding in the closet, for unknown but clearly sinister reasons, which may (or may) not be something to do with JP's increasingly unbalanced behavior.
Writer/director Patrick Picard's dry, deranged, and very, very loose adaptation of Edgar Alan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" is deliberately stylized. It's reminiscent of cult favorite du jour Mickey Reece's Heartland Baroque, just without his signature hyperbolic presentation. So if that's what appeals about his version of Middle American Gothic, then the more static, almost stagnant and dusty mood of Picard's iteration of doom-laden melodrama might fall flat. But if Reece's mannered camp grates, then Picard's more delicate yet crueler touch may appeal.
The Poe influence is more in tone than in direct storytelling transcription, although Usher's core narrative - a friend, a rambling ancestral home, siblings, death - remain in tact. However, far more closely translated is the New England master of the macabre's sense of unhinged doom and inescapable isolation. As Roderick Usher himself said, "I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, fear." Both Aiken and Adler get the inherent strangeness, having dabbled in these waters before (Aiken in Austinite Karen Skloss' psychedelic The Honor Farm, and Adler as the doomed Roger in Twin Peaks: The Return) so they become suitably bonded in the coolly claustrophobic house. Adler undoubtedly gets to have more histrionic fun in his grave-bound ennui, and it's not that The Bloodhound is without humor. One particularly ridiculous sequence involving sleeping bags could break the tone, so open is it in its comedy, but Picard always pivots towards a bleak awkwardness. There's malice, even if it is often ill-defined. Ali Helnwein's unnerving score, an intrusion off-key woodwind and staccato strings, continues the dedication to tone over text. The how is ultimately not important here, and neither is the why, but the what will intrigue.
The Bloodhound is available on VOD, and on Arrow Video's Arrow Player subscription service.