Blood (2012)

Review first published by EyeforFilm.

“The wind out there – out there on the islands. I remember when we were kids, Dad would tell us if we didn’t fasten our coats, we’d be blown off our feet and out to sea. And we believed him.”

The voice-over that opens Nick Murphy’s follow-up to The Awakening is accompanied by images of two boys playing on a wind-swept estuary of north-west England’s Wirral Peninsula, before a segue takes us from this childhood reminiscence to the speaker’s adult present and an altogether less idyllic vision of childhood. Joe Fairburn (Paul Bettany) and his younger brother Chrissie (Stephen Graham) – now grown up to be local CID Officers just like their father Lenny (Brian Cox) was – are investigating the murder of schoolgirl Angela, viciously stabbed and dumped at a public skateboard rink. And so we are made aware from the outset that in Blood, the title comes with a double reference, denoting both the family ties that bind and the stuff of life coursing through – or pouring out of – our veins.

Convicted paedophile Jason Buleigh (Ben Crompton) is brought in for questioning, and quickly becomes the chief suspect after pictures of Angela and other girls are found in his home – but he is nonetheless released for lack of any concrete evidence linking him to the killing. Deeply affected by the murder of a girl the same age as his own daughter (Naomi Battrick), and brought up on his (now dementia-addled) father’s stories of strong-hand tactics and brutal interrogations back in the old policing day, Joe drives Jason out to Hilbre Island one night, with Chrissie riding shotgun and Lenny asleep in the back. Joe is intent on terrorising Jason into a confession, but instead, overcome by alcohol and rage, takes a course of action from which there can be no turning back. Soon the two brothers find themselves pursued not just by their dogged colleague Robert (Mark Strong) but also by their own maddening sense of guilt.

Blood starts out as a smalltown police procedural, before rapidly shifting into a noirish morality drama in which, despite all the nocturnal rains and rising tides, blood definitely proves thicker than water. The film was adapted by writer Bill Gallagher from his own TV miniseries Conviction (2004), and the inevitable abridgement that comes with this process occasionally shows – in particular those scenes that involve Joe’s wife (Natasha Little) and daughter come across as over-elliptical or underwritten. Yet, for the most part, this is an intense study of family loyalties and legacies, unearthing the haunting wages of conscience in an unusual (and well-used) littoral landscape.

Anton Bitel