Would-be thriller The Bleeding House centers on a peculiar family, The Smiths, who bear spooky suggestions of bygone infamy: their knife drawer is padlocked; they have a strict, panic-provoking rule against pets; and, when the father sees his wife in an apron splashed with red stains, he freaks. “It’s just paint,” she assures him. This is a family haunted by its tragedy-marked past—denied, like other American lives, that coveted second act. Too bad this compellingly cryptic imagery is neutralized by writer-director Philip Gelatt’s on-the-nose dialogue, delivered by a cast seemingly recruited from a regional theater company in the boondocks in which the movie was shot.
This strange, hermetic family is intruded upon one cold winter’s night by a stranger in a Panama suit (Patrick Breen, phenomenal right now in The Normal Heart on Broadway but merely fine here), a surgeon who happens to carry his tools with him, which he’ll use to bleed out the family members like a mad avenging angel with a Medicinae Doctor. With a folksy drawl, he embodies a kindly American archetype, belying its kindness to expose the underlying menace.
The Bleeding House illustrates the cruelty lurking beneath Smalltown, USA: neighbors ostracized the contrite Smiths and unwittingly fingered them for death; the family is killed one by one, without suspense, by a conspicuous representative of Main Street, and when the town’s idiot cops get involved, they fail to save our Smiths. The movie builds to a final fight that aspires to American allegory, a battle for the country’s soul, pitting the religiously righteous against the nihilistic. The gag? They’re both still fucking sociopaths, so who cares who wins?
The Bleeding House screens tonight at 9 p.m., and again on April 28-30. More info here.