Sure, Bloodline is the name of a popular now-canceled television show, a Peter Berg 2013 TV movie, a 2005 urban action-drama, and a 1979 Audrey Hepburn thriller, but it's also the title of Henry Jacobson's feature directorial debut, starring Seann William Scott. And just as the title retreads familiar territory, so, too, does the film, which finds Scott as a psychologically damaged high school counselor who finally snaps and begins avenging his students who've been wronged by parental figures.
Part slasher throwback and part arty Euro-experiment, the film marks Scott's return to genre films after a long hiatus since 2000's original Final Destination. Comedy has obviously become the actor's forte, but like other comic actors before him — notably Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Kristen Wiig — Scott's trying his hand at embodying a psychopath, here, and largely succeeding, even if his performance becomes a little one-note dull.
Scott plays Evan, a virtual husband of the year, whose wife Lauren (Mariela Garriga) is about to give birth. In film, we've got a number of stories that track the mental decay of mothers-to-be, most recently Alice Lowe's Prevenge, but very rare is the portrayal of men's paternal madness under duress, unless it's like a Deathwish situation, where the protagonist is getting even for wrongs done to his daughter. Not here. Instead, something about Lauren's impending labor day taps into Evan's protective instincts, and he becomes a militant papa bear for his troubled students, who come to him everyday with their woes about deadbeat, violent, or predatory caretakers.
Evan's not hearing any "Kill-kill-kill-ma-ma-ma" voices in his head, but this film certainly does draw inspiration from Friday the 13th and the dangerous relationship between mother and son. To play off Scott's special naive qualities, Jacobson cast opposite him a character actor with one of the most hardened personas in contemporary film, Dale Dickey, whose turns in Winter's Bone, Hell or High Water, Claws, and Vice Principals have made her deeply lined face and Marlboros voice synonymous with either blunt terror or folksy warmth.
Dickey's mother character, Marie, shows up the second Evan begins flailing, like Marie's got a radar love to detect her son's loss of control. The truest thing I can say about this film is that there are not nearly enough scenes with Scott and Dickey acting together, and it would have benefited greatly from exploring those polar opposites more. But Scott on his own ain't the worst.
When Evan grows violent, and we see him kidnapping and killing his students' tormentors, there's still a childlike quality about him — again, totally different from the types of male avengers we're used to. His preferred tool of torture is a regular old kitchen knife, and though he sometimes loses control and gets extra stabby, most of the violence we witness shows Evan kind of testing out the waters, poking his victims almost delicately in the abdomen, not like he's playing with them sadistically, but as though he's checking something off his chore list: "You can't have your dessert until you stab this guy's liver and heart."
The script — from Avra Fox-Lerner, Will Honley, and Jacobson — also mines the specific horrors around childbirth and the clinical sterility of hospital settings and the people who work in them. One nurse (Christie Herring) becomes the family's consistent foil, roughly correcting Lauren when she can't get the baby to latch onto the breast and chastising her when she overreacts about a fever. Talk to any new parent, and you'll find there's usually one hospital worker onto which they project all their anxieties about failing as a parent. Evan's family, however, has an easy, tried-and-true solve for the problem: murder!
We've seen this story before. We've seen madness and violence passed on from one generation to the next, and every manner of revenge. Yet this is a film I felt less impressed with as I was watching it than later on, when I thought about what it was doing differently or where it was finding its inspiration. The best I can say is that Jacobson attempts to channel innocence and engender empathy for Evan, who thinks he's doing the right thing — what he's been taught to do his entire life — only to find out it causes more harm than good.
In more ways than one, it is a spiritual successor to the Friday the 13th franchise, and if ever there were an apt fill-in for the gummy, wide-smiling Betsy Palmer as Mrs. Voorhees, Dale Dickey would be it. Bloodline's not breaking any new ground, here, but it's also got enough personality not to get buried with other, lesser slasher knock-offs.