Bloodhound (The) (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (28th May 2021).
The Film

The Bloodhound (Patrick Picard, 2020)

The debut feature of its writer-director Patrick Picard, The Bloodhound is based loosely on Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’. The narrative focuses on recluse Jean-Paul (Joe Adler), aka JP, who requests the presence of his childhood friend Francis (Liam Aiken). JP lives in perfect isolation from the rest of the world with his twin sister Vivian (Annalise Basso), who rarely leaves her room.

The film opens with… something crawling across the ground, into a house, and snaking into a wardrobe where it hides by closing the door behind it. This moment establishes the film’s emphasis on the disorienting and quietly eerie, underscored by its claustrophobic setting. The Bloodhound was shot in the Neutra Research House, the former home of architect Richard Neutra, in Los Angeles. A modernist construction dominated by glass, the Neutra House gives the film a curious atmosphere. The film’s photography features much play of natural light, falling through the glass, dappling on the interior surfaces of the house. Neutra reputedly built the house with so much glass with the intention of creating an interior space that did not feel confining, but in The Bloodhound this is inverted: JP’s house (the Neutra Research House) is very much a space of imprisonment and entrapment. JP himself describes the house to Francis as ‘very much like you’ve entered a dream – for better or worse’. Later, JP tells Francis, ‘This house is a beautiful place, but it’s a strange place […] Imagination is one of its greatest allies’.

JP’s letter asking his friend Francis to visit and stay with him is presented at the start of the film as an on-screen title: ‘Why not stay here a while? It’d be like one long sleepover’, JP promises Francis in this letter. Sleep and the dream state become a motif throughout the narrative. JP has problems with his short-term memory, which means that he struggles to separate dreams from reality. For his part, Francis tells JP that he is ‘in my dreams quite a lot’. The characters seem to exist in that liminal realm between sleep and waking reality. When Francis tells JP that during the night, he saw Vivian, dripping wet, JP tells Francis that Vivian sleep walks: ‘Are you awake right now?’, JP asks Francis, ‘Are you sure you’re awake right now? [….] I’d be interested to see if you remember this in the morning’.

Picard has stated that what appealed to him about the Poe story was ‘the feeling of a dream’, and this sense (of the dream-like) anchors The Bloodhound: from its general palette to, more specifically, the nightmarish sequences that feature a creature (character?) slithering out of the forest and crawling into a cupboard in the house (Picard, quoted in Arrow Films, 2021). These images, the film reveals later, are part of a recurring nightmare of JP’s; JP gives the creature in these dreams the name of ‘The Bloodhound’. JP describes these nightmares to Francis, saying that the Bloodhound hides in a house and fills the residents with a sense of fear, before moving on to another dwelling.

Picard claims not to have seen any of the previous adaptations of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ prior to making The Bloodhound, but nevertheless his film has a similar texture to Roger Corman’s famous adaptation of 1960 (starring Vincent Price, Mark Harmon and Barbara Steele) and Jean Epstein’s atmospheric 1928 version too (ibid.). Certainly, JP expresses a similar sense of ennui to Vincent Price in Corman’s film. ‘Depression’s always been the family evil’, JP tells his friend, ‘All the money you could ever need, and no peace at all’. On the other hand, Francis has fallen on hard times, and JP observes that ‘You haven’t got the same lap to fall into that I have. I forget that’. Whilst JP sleeps after a night of heavy drinking, Francis steals a number of JP’s possessions, including cash and a 35mm Leica (an M2 or M3, judging by the frame advance lever). Whether it was always Francis’ intention to steal from JP is uncertain, however. In the morning, JP discovers the cash is missing: ‘Someone got into the pizza money!’, he exclaims, adding, ‘I just wish we could have caught him. I wouldn’t want to kill him. I just want him to feel fear’.

JP’s sister Vivian is discussed but rarely seen – to the extent that the viewer might wonder, for much of the film’s running time, whether she exists at all. JP suggests Vivian is violent, and despite his fascination with black and white war movies (which express a sense of fraternity to which JP connects, and which he feels he lacks in his own life) JP expresses a paranoia about violence, suggesting his self-imposed isolation is largely owing to a fear of the senseless violence that he believes is rife within contemporary society. JP stays in the house to connect with the past: the house has been passed down through his family.

Along the way, the narrative makes some sidebars into the bizarre and the quietly camp: there is a wonderful sequence in which JP persuade Francis to climb into a sleeping bag and wrestle on the floor ‘for old time’s sake’. This action seems to suggest a sense of violence within JP which he tries to repress – a desublimation of the sexual desire he seems to feel towards Francis. This bubbles over when, in one sequence, JP shows Francis a pornographic tape that JP has made with two women (‘Friends. Expensive friends’), before grabbing Francis’ groin.

Ultimately, The Bloodhound is an enigmatic and atmospheric picture, its ambiguities perhaps best summed up a line JP delivers towards the end of the film: ‘I had this thought my whole life that it was all going to mean something, that it was all going to add up somehow. I don’t know. Does it?’ The film’s deadpan tone obscures a darkly comic sensibility which comes to the fore in a number of scenes, but what is most memorable about the film is perhaps its photography and its emphasis on architecture and light, marrying this with long periods of silence and a Morton Feldman-like score to create an unearthly atmosphere.



Video

Running for 71:37 mins, The Bloodhound was photographed digitally and in colour, and is presented here in its intended aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The 1080p presentation uses the AVC codec.

As noted in the main body of this review, the photography places emphasis on the contrast between light and darkness – sunlight falling through windows and dappling on the surfaces of the house interior, Venetian blinds blowing in the wind and catching the light as they do so, the Bloodhound crawling through the shadows. The photography is often deliberately dark, with some scenes leaning towards underexposure in order to protect shadow detail. All of this is captured excellently on this Blu-ray release, which displays very pleasing contrast levels: detail is present in the shadows, with light tapering into the highlights, a sense of texture evident throughout the tones. Colours are mostly naturalistic with some scenes featuring more divergent hues and tones. The encode to disc seems not to present any issues.

NB. Some full-sized screengrabs are included at the bottom of this review. Please click to enlarge them.



Audio

The disc includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and a LPCM 2.0 stereo track. Both of these are clean, with excellent range – though the 5.1 track has a more immersive soundscape. Optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing are included, and these are easy to read and accurate.

Extras

The disc includes the following contextual material:
- Audio commentary with director Patrick Picard and editor David Scorca. Picard and Scorca clearly have a good working relationship, and converse warmly about the making of the film. Scorca is a little more articulate in terms of the processes involved in making the picture, and its post-production. Picard says that JP’s story about his recurring nightmare featuring the Bloodhound has its origins in a dream Picard himself experienced. The pair talk at length about how the crew tried to engender a sense of claustrophobia.

- ‘On the Trail of The Bloodhound’ (45:21). This documentary looks at the making of The Bloodhound and features interviews with Patrick Picard, producer Leal Naim, cinematographer Jake Magee, editor David Scorca, production designer Arielle Ness-Cohn and actor Joe Adler. The origins of the film in Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ are discussed, and how the picture was moved into production is covered. The cast speak about their roles; Magee talks at length about the film’s photography, and Ness-Cohn reflects on her role as production designer and the use of the house (and the challenges of building a vault in the style of the house). The interviews are intercut with ‘behind the scenes’ footage.

- Patrick Picard’s Short Films: ‘Bad Dream’ (1:06); ‘The Muffled Hammerfall in Action’ (0:51); ‘The Mosaic Code’ (0:32); ‘Wiggleworm’ (0:48). These short films feature a mixture of animation (‘Bad Dream’) and experimental photography (the use of multiple exposures in ‘The Muffled Hammerfall…’; the Pixelvision-style photography in ‘The Mosaic Code’).

Overall

The Bloodhound works hard at creating a quietly unsettling atmosphere, and achieves this largely thanks to some impressive sound design and photography. The use of the Neutra House, in particular, is superb: the space of this unique building takes on an almost otherworldly quality. In the commentary and documentary included on this disc, Picard admits to not being a fan of Edgar Allan Poe’s work, and as an adaptation of Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, The Bloodhound takes what works for the material (JP’s isolation, sexual repression, the house as a symbol of familial responsibilities and the burden of the past) and plays fast and loose with the rest. It’s as dryly comic as it is disquieting: notably, Joe Adler’s off-key performance as JP works marvelously within this context.

Arrow’s Blu-ray presentation of the film is excellent, and is accompanied by some commendable contextual material. The documentary is perhaps a little too long and could be tightened through more judicious editing, but nevertheless both the documentary and commentary help to frame the film by exploring Picard’s intentions.

References:
Arrow Films, 2021: ‘Interview with Patrick Picard – Director of The Bloodhound’. [Online.] https://arrowfilms.com/articles/interview-with-patrick-picard-director-of-the-bloodhound/

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