The film’s title, Wicked Blood, implies that it will be about family, and I suppose it is. It evokes the notion that heredity may be destiny – that the sins of the fathers (and mothers) get played out, or even recreated in their children. Or it is about how a girl in a family overloaded with bad is terrified that the little good she has around her will be taken away, but the only way she can think to deal with it gets her deeper into the family’s darkness. It’s an idea that has a lot of promise, if it really digs down into its subject matter, creates a specific world that feels believable and terrifying at once.
Wicked Blood does not do this. Instead, it takes the premise of a frightened girl trying to keep together the only family she knows, and puts it in service of a generic low-class drug story.
It begins well. Abigail Breslin plays Hannah Lee, the girl in question, who lives with her older sister Amber and her waste case of an uncle, Donny. Hannah loves chess, spends all of her free time playing the game, and Donny was a “state champion” before he gave it all away to the pleasures of crystal meth. To keep them in home and to keep himself in supply, Donny cooks meth for the local crime boss Frank (who happens to be his brother-in-law.) One day, some lawmen in suits pay Hannah a visit, looking for Donny, and tell her in no uncertain terms that they are going to need Donny to turn snitch, or he was going to jail, and Hannah was headed for a foster home.
This is followed by a scene of real emotion, with Hannah crying, and Donny trying to convince her, no matter what the law men said, they can’t go against Uncle Frank. He owns the town, he owns half the cops – there’s nothing they can do. Which leads to dinner at Uncle Franks, where the evil uncle (played for no discernible reason by Sean Bean) sizes Hannah up. She reminds him enough of her willful (and now deceased) mother that he’s more than a little unsure about what she’s going to do.
And he should be, because little Hannah is playing a multiple level chess game with, or maybe against, the family. This is made clear by the constant shots of the chess board, over which Hannah recites an old English poem about chess. Because, arty.
What follows is a lot of plot, and plot that requires some great feats of stupidity from a number of major players. Uncle Frank is suspicious of Hannah, but that doesn’t stop him from accepting her out of the blue offer to work for him muling drug packages around town. When the head of a local biker gang complains that some of the packages have been tampered with, Uncle Frank is mildly suspicious that his never before in the business niece who has been contacted by the police was the one who delivered all the packages that were bad, but… nah, not worth following up on.
Frank takes all of these meetings in an office so dim, you can’t see the walls, or more than a couple feet from his desk. Unfortunately, this feels less like a visual design choice and more like a low budgeted movie that lost a location they thought they had, and just had to make do because Sean Bean was flying out in two days, and had 10 pages of office scenes they needed to shoot. Which would also explain why Uncle Frank apparently only owns two outfits that he wears constantly.
There are other parts of the plot – Frank’s got a brother, Bobby, who isn’t right in the head and takes too much interest in Amber, who herself gets involved with the biker gang leader because she waits on him in a diner. Hannah’s own plans are never explained, and their vagueness makes her actions seem both random and thoughtless. And highly dependent on the credulity, or even stupidity, of the criminal masterminds she’s outsmarting. (One revenge plan depends entirely on the fact that, at the moment she is in Frank’s office, he’s keeping live grenades on his desktop, and doesn’t notice when one of them goes missing.)
The parts of the movie that aren’t incomprehensible are relentlessly generic. Except maybe for that early dinner scene with Uncle Frank, there isn’t a scene in the movie that doesn’t have dialogue, character reactions, or plot twists that haven’t been seen a thousand times before. The direction is very much in the style of “indie artyness” where shots of landscape or the aforementioned chess + poem scenes take the place of development or depth.
The underlying issue with the movie, though, is that is doesn’t have a real reason to be. This kind of story, the family in the drugs business, young girl fighting for a bad family has been done, and better. Hell, all of season two of Justified had that theme, and explored it with more depth, interest, and (this is the key) specificity. Wicked Blood is set in Louisiana, and if IMDB is to be trusted was even shot there. But it could have been shot anywhere, been about anything. It doesn’t leave enough of an impression… or, really, any.
About the Disc
I watched the Blu-ray which looked just fine on my system. For whatever reason, my receiver didn’t detect the DTS track that I had set up in disc’s language option, but I could not swear that it was an issue with the disc, and not my system. There’s about 12 minutes of interviews with the cast as the only special feature.