The walls of the small modern showroom in The Bloodhound are stained with a musty sheen and tarnished with the perpetual memory of death and hereditary dismay, or are they? Those that inhabit its winding corridors appear as bewildering as the mystery of the house itself in Patrick Picard’s modern adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, an exercise in style that doesn’t quite justify its lack of substance.
This 19th-century short story from Poe is set in the crumbling ruins of an ancient mansion called ‘The House of Usher’, where siblings Roderick and Madeline live an isolated life within the seemingly closing walls of the decrepit house. The narrator of the story receives a letter from Roderick, an estranged childhood friend, and decides to visit, wherein he discovers Madeleine’s mysterious illness and Roderick’s ever-declining mental state. This story is mirrored almost exactly in Picard’s film, albeit for a few name changes and a nice, clean re-location.
Long thin rooms, strange corners, and irregular cubby holes make up the modernised House of Usher, a home whose pure design is perplexing and often claustrophobic. The production design from Arielle Ness-Cohn perfectly sets up the strange and surreal, without the need for ostentatious imagery. For an exercise in style, The Bloodhound is a successful one, creating a place in which the inexplicable is justified as an extension of the house itself; those that reside within it seem to be a product of the four walls, emitting the same empty personality and pasty complexion as the beige paint.
Whilst a solid foundation is built for the film to grow into, unfortunately, the substance never quite makes account for the style, creating an imbalance that often makes the script seem irritatingly kooky. Often striving to replicate an eccentric European pathos, akin to Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, characters communicate with an empty disinterest and seem to experience the world around them with apathy. A stylistic choice perhaps, but with such an isolated plot in which we rely on the characters for progression, their constant detachment from themselves, each other, and the story at hand make us wonder why we should care at all.
At the story’s core is a mystery surrounding the peculiar ‘Bloodhound’, a creature which we see commando crawl through the house before barricading himself in the wardrobe in the opening of the film. It’s an intriguing set-up of which there are never any answers, nor any real pieces to the puzzle. Nor this central mystery, nor the intriguing history of the family are ever satisfyingly concluded; their plotlines simply ebb away into the credits of the 70-minute film.
In the literal sense, The Bloodhound feels somewhat episodic, more suited to an anthology horror series than its own dedicated platform. The potential for a great story is nicely set-up in the intriguing opening, but satisfying conclusions are never met, and relationships never truly established. Joe Adler’s weird, pale-faced, pretentious performance as ‘lord of the manor’ helps to give this tale some gravitas, but he is given little to work off, with little help from the monotone act of best-friend and house-guest, Liam Aiken. The film’s climax is oddly laborious considering its short runtime, reaching a wholly unrewarding conclusion that grinds the film to a soft thud, making your time spent in the updated House of Usher appropriately uncomfortable but disappointingly inhospitable.
The Bloodhound is out on Arrow Films Blu-Ray from March 22nd.