Well-acted and well-crafted, “Bloody Marie” represents a promising directorial bow for the Dutch team of Guido van Driel and veteran cinematographer Lennert Hillege (also doing DP duties here). But their accomplished handling goes only so far to cohere a somewhat awkward story concept that’s primarily a semi-repellent character study before abruptly lurching into thriller terrain. Neither of those elements feels fully realized, and the film ends with its precise point still murky at best.
Yet if their self-penned material lacks a solid foundation, it compels interest nonetheless, in both confidently stylish execution and Susanne Wolff’s central performance as the alcoholic title character. An odd import pickup for U.S. genre distributor Uncork’d Entertainment, the drama opens Nov. 1 on four U.S. screens, available on demand Nov. 11.
Last seen by most as the firmly capable solo sailor of “Styx,” German star Wolff is first glimpsed here in a state of ecstatic abandon, dancing under disco lights. It’s only after a while that we realize she’s dancing alone in the rear of a near-empty saloon, already drunk in the middle of the day. Soon she’s tempting fate by self-righteously baiting two tough guys at the bar, and we cringe — as we will again, and again — at her willingness to risk harm for the pleasure of being publicly obnoxious.
Such a challenging character deserves more backstory and insight than “Bloody Marie” is willing to give her. Yet Wolff holds interest as we learn what little the script offers about our antiheroine: She’s a comic book artist famous for a graphic novel called “Porno for the Blind.” But that was published six years ago, and apparently her creative muse has been elusive since then — perhaps in part because the likewise German-expat mother (Therese Affolter) who lived directly above her flat in Amsterdam’s red-light district has passed away in the interim.
These days, Marie does little but drink, to the dismay of her long-suffering dog Lieze, and to the point where some local bartenders and liquor store owners discourage her patronage. That should provide a wake-up call, but Marie simply doesn’t care. Self-destruction seems a sufficiently entertaining life occupation for her, even if she’s now running short on cash.
Thus, during one night’s sodden, neck-risking hijinks — climbing precariously onto her building’s roof to retrieve something that’s caught her eye — she surrenders to inebriated impulse and steals money through a neighbor’s window. At more than 2,000 euros, it’s a good haul. But the neighbor is previously-met Dragomir (Romanian star Dragos Bucur), a pimp affiliated with the brothel next door. That missing cash soon translates into the screams of prostitutes being beaten on suspicion of having stolen it.
When a now-sober, regretful Marie tries to intervene (and perhaps return the loot) at the 50-minute mark, the movie suddenly becomes “bloody” indeed, introducing a villain worse than Dragomir in boss figure Jos (Mark Rietman), plus other elements of peril and action. But this sudden shift from woozy character study into thriller terrain feels incompletely thought through. And while the film finds something of a grace note to end on, even that falls short of any proper narrative resolution.
Hillege’s imagery (abetted by Floris Vos’ production design) has a rain-slicked, neon-accented attractiveness appropriate to a neo-noir — even if a more grittily realistic look might’ve better underlined the protagonist’s plight. He and van Driel don’t seem interested in taking her that seriously, though. The result is a film about a haplessly self-destructive antiheroine who lacks both pathos and true biliousness, even as Wolff manages to keep her queasily relatable. Other performances by the international cast are also strong, including newcomer Alexia Lestiboudois as a probable human-trafficking victim who turns out to be a talented artist, like Marie.
Despite the occasional brief flashbacks, hallucinations and nightmares worked in here, “Bloody Marie” feels unfinished as a psychological portrait, and even more so as any kind of sure-footed narrative arc. How those elements do function effectively is as part of an overall aesthetic puzzle whose other notable pieces include some assertive soundtrack choices — everything from Mahler and Mozart to industrial band Einsturzende Neubauten and ’60s garage-rock faves the Monks.
Given their evident talent for packaging (as opposed to content), Hillege and van Driel might next consider doing something of a more purely genre-based nature, where depth or its lack thereof won’t matter much.