Michael Henry’s Blame clearly takes inspiration from the greats, and the writer/director certainly recognises the ingredients required for a taut psychological thriller, but he doesn’t quite follow through in the execution. It begins with a seemingly innocent man attacked in his remote country house by a bunch of smartly dressed teenagers. Their motives are slowly revealed over the course of the film, and the presumed innocence of their prisoner is put into question. Within the confines of this small house, power relationships shift and our understandings of the characters evolve. In that sense, Blame gets the genre just right, and there are brief flashes of brilliance that evoke Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie. But the tension isn’t ratcheted to levels high enough to give us a real sense of escalation, and ultimately it feels like a sincere tribute to Hitchcock and Christie, but not a modern-day companion piece.
The “innocent” man is Bernard (Damian de Montemas), a music teacher who has fled the city following an incident with a young student. Living a seemingly idyllic life of isolation with his dog, he comes home one day and is bum-rushed by a group of young ski-mask clad intruders. They tie him to a chair, force him to down some sleeping tablets, and wait for him to OD. When his body stops writhing and his heart stops beating, the five assailants remove any trace of their involvement and get the hell out of dodge. But when they discover an incriminating phone has been left at the scene of the crime, the assassins double back, and see that Bernard’s “corpse” is not where they had left it.
Montemas is excellent as Bernard; his performance brings to mind that of Patrick Wilson in Hard Candy, a similar revenge tale in which our “victim” is revealed to be a sexual predator. He does much of the hard lifting in the film, when it should ideally be spread across all six of the main characters. Kestie Morassi and Sophie Lowe – as the sister and best friend of Bernard’s recently deceased teen lover respectively – do some nice work as they wrestle with the moral implications of carrying out a murder. The three fellows who lend a hand – Simon Stone, Mark Leonard Winter and Ashley Zukerman – don’t fare quite as well with their underwritten characters; Stone in particular spends much of the picture screaming outlandishly.
The story is sound, and the script – also written by Henry – is tight; what we really needed here is some stylistic panache. The visual execution and editing is fairly flat, which doesn’t really help a thriller (even Hitchcock’s Rope - perhaps Blame‘s most obvious ancestor - tried an interesting, if gimmicky, approach to the material). Without tension, the stakes feel low, when really they should be through the roof. It wants to be a thoughtful exploration of morality, and it wants to be a fun, self-contained little genre chiller. Instead, it just feels like a script on a screen – nothing more and nothing less.
Blame arrives in Australian cinemas June 16, 2011.