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Make Thick My Blood – A Review

Wishing Well Visuals – production
Cinematographer – Cameron Dunlop
Producer – Josh Hammond
Director – Josh Beattie / Ennui Pictures
Sound Design – Josh Beattie / Ennui Pictures

Official Entry for 2011 Origin8 Fast Film Competition. Winner: Best Cinematography (Ben Cotgrove), Best Sound Design (Joshua Beattie) and Best Performance (Jade Paskins).

Every murder puts ‘me’ centre stage.  Whether it’s force majeure, or a crime of passion; politically expedient or just having fun: murder is an act of narcissism.  A rival ego gets snuffed out.  Like dousing a light, so you can see the dark.  Murder devours.  The great difficulty, after, is how you live with yourself.  Most people can’t countenance themselves as killers.  So the impulse turns, becomes an urge to forget.  It’s rational, of course, to disbelieve nightmares.  We renounce what we consider defiled… unless we can’t; unless we feel guilt.  Josh Beattie’s short film, Make Thick My Blood, is about the trap of conscience.  A murderer can walk, or shamble, from a crime scene.  But the act of killing cuts through denial.

We don’t see the moment when it happened.  The young woman – the assailant – is running as the film begins.  She looks panicked, freshly bereaved.  There’s blood on her clothes.  At first, you might mistake her for the victim of an attack.  She gets in a car.  It seems like she’s got away.  Then a timecard flashes 08:36.  And the screen turns red.  The young woman is wiping blood off the floor.  The man she killed is lying in the next room.  She packs a bag and runs out the door.  A timecard flashes 07:18.  We hear snatches of an argument.  The young woman – blood-spattered – walks into the street.  At that moment, she looks as if she can’t go on.  The title card flashes.  And you realise, when you saw her running, she was on the loose.

“Make thick my blood” is a line from Macbeth.  It’s Lady Macbeth’s appeal, to summon the strength to murder Duncan.  She prays to the spirits “that tend on mortal thoughts”: “stop up the access and passage to remorse… and fill me…full of direst cruelty.”  This from the same woman who will later cry, famously: “Out, damned spot!”  And lament that “the old man… had so much blood in him.”  In her, Shakespeare created both a monster and someone all too human.  Ego dooms her.  She can’t survive being responsible for a man’s death.  Knowledge of the act is like a knife that splits her open.  It’s as if his blood spills from her veins.  Remorse transforms her into a wraith.  So haunted is she by what she’s done.

Macbeth is a tragedy.  Like all Shakespeare’s tragedies, it’s the lead characters who suffer. The moral is not: fear murderers, but fear becoming a murderer.  As the critic Harold Bloom once wrote: “[the play]…reaches out to our own apprehensiveness, our universal sense that the dreadful is about to happen, and that we have no choice but to participate in it.”  It’s the age-old anxiety about monsters; that they might be human, like us, and by extension: we might be monsters too.  If you tell a story from the point of view of a killer, you humanise them.  If the killer experiences regret, we can understand.  The act – the killing – becomes separate from the person.  Suddenly, there’s no quarantine between them and you.

Make Thick My Blood isn’t thrilled by murder, or the getaway.  Its tone is elegiac; it doesn’t aim for suspense.  The music throughout has a suspended feeling, barely there, like a grieving relative at a funeral.  There’s a marked absence of other people on the streets.  Jade Paskins, in the lead, is alone with her mistake.  The film constantly seeks to emphasise her isolation.  Even the voices we hear are echoes from the recent past.  It’s as if a hush has fallen; the ominous quiet of disaster.  We don’t need to see the body.  The blood spells it out. What I liked was how the house seems hollow, after the murder.  There’s a shot where the camera pulls back from the front door, and I was struck by how empty the rooms appear, devoid of signs of life.  The people who lived here have vanished.  The whole neighbourhood seems struck down by a plague.  And this young woman – the cause – is alone with her guilt.

What’s it like to know you’ve killed someone?  I imagine: sleepless nights, gnawing dread.  Your future snipped, as if the tips of your fingers had been cut off.  And every day after, all you see is the bloody remains.  The worst mistakes reinforce how unfair time is.  That’s what it really means to be haunted: not to see ghosts, but to see what can’t be changed.  To live this way is to live in despair.  Macbeth’s most famous speech – “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…” – is about living without hope.  In Josh Beattie’s short film, the young woman is at the beginning of a descent.  She has years of torment ahead of her; the murder dark and virulent… coiled inside her head.  Sadly, you can’t stanch a memory.

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