When you think of Seann William Scott, you probably don’t think “cold-blooded killer”. The actor has made a career out of comedy, playing machismo douchebags, lovable dimwits and all-out doofuses since his breakout role as Stifler in America Pie, but his latest film, Bloodline, takes away Scott’s punchlines and gives him a big ol’ knife instead as a serial killer who’s all about family values.
Evan Cole (Scott) is living the dream. He’s got a loving wife (Mriela Garriga), a supportive mother (Dale Dickey), and a beautiful brand new baby. During the day, he reports to a job he loves, counseling at-risk students. By night, he reports to a job he loves even more, brutally murdering his students’ child abusers, molesters, and anyone else who doesn’t match his (occasionally too-hight) standards of family values. When it comes time for the kills — and believe me, Bloodline wastes no time getting to the kills — the film is brutal and bloody as hell, depicting Evan as a ruthless, speedy force of violence who wields a big-ass hunting knife and leaves behind pools of blood.
Bloodline borrows heavily from the tradition of serial killer cinema, particularly the Giallo classics. It’s all black gloves, gleaming knives, and saturated colors. There’s also noticeable amount of De Palma in the film’s DNA, particularly in the stylistic elements — extreme close-up reactions, twinkling cityscapes in the blue-tinged night, rivers of blood flowing down the naked female form, and even a little split-screen action. Those influences certainly make for damn fine looking movie, with impressive work from cinematographer Isaac Bauman (Channel Zero), but it’s also sometimes downright sleazy (See: a graphic birthing sequence inter-cut with scenes of a man’s intestines spilling out of his body — in the first 15 minutes). That’s either a good or a bad thing, depending on your tastes, but Bloodline certainly won’t leave the bloodhounds thirsty.
Narratively, Bloodline won’t be able to avoid comparisons to Dexter, the long-running series that followed a serial killer with a code and likewise offered audiences the misanthropic indulgence of watching all the bad people die horribly. As there was with Dexter, there’s guilty pleasures to be found in watching Evan obliterate Nazis and child molesters — a pleasure that dissipates when the wrong person winds up on the bad end of his knife (and the film’s final act may take too deep of a moral dive for some film-goers). Unfortunately, Evan isn’t nearly as compelling or frightening as Dexter was, neither in writing or performance. Scott really does turn off that mega-watt smile that made him a comedy favorite, and it can be frightening, but a lot of his charisma goes away with it. He nails the dead-eyed determination of a shark swimming among his prey, which can make him hard root for — especially when his moral compass starts to skew.
Bloodline also labors on a trite backstory to explain Evan’s compulsions, and while it’s fair to say that the childhood abuse and early violence are true-to-life triggers for a burgeoning serial killer, it’s also fair to say that the way they’re presented in the film is not particularly cinematic or intriguing. The dynamic between Evan, his wife and his mother fares much better, constructing a complex power dynamic between a family-first trio on the brink of drowning in secrets. More of their dynamic — teased with unsettling mother/son smooches and surprising camaraderie between the women — might have helped offset the sometimes deadening feeling of familiarity.
Bloodline is commendable for having the guts to just go for it, all in, and there’s a lot of impressive technical work along the way (including a banger of a retro synth score by Trevor Gureckis). It’s a good looking, well constructed film, but there’s not much to buy into beyond the bright lights and red red blood. It’s too familiar and surprisingly self-serious about it. Sure, the film might shock regular moviegoers with visuals of eviscerated flesh — it’s certainly a bit ballsier and has less of a commercial quality than much of Blumhouse’s traditionally high-concept fare — but that means that the film is targeting a specific audience, and that audience has seen this all before.