The ambitious psychological drama Blessid is sobering and challenging because of its unique brand of storytelling ambivalence. On one hand, director Rob Fitz’s (“God of Vampires”) unflinching narrative embraces the conventional elements of melodramatic mechanisms (i.e., the harried heroine, love and loss, strained marriage, the unlikely guardian angel, psychotic suitors, tortured childhood memories complimenting adulthood emptiness, etc.) and serves it dutifully as a low key behavioral thriller that seduces the tension and turmoil palpable to its uplifting doomsday spirit. On the other hand, Blessid comes off as spotty in its case of gentle confusion with a side dish of innocuous convolution. Nevertheless, there is still something indescribably compelling and moving about the thought-provoking film that screams volumes of warranted curiosity and forethought. Although the titillating story could have had a more cohesive and trimmed flow Fitz skillfully delivers an entertaining and enticing brooding fable that provides its nourishing rush of suspense and redemption.
Screenwriter Robert Heske (sharing producer credits as well) craftily injects the puzzle pieces of mystery, despair, frustration and poignancy and allows Fitz’s adventurous yet understated direction to unravel the tainted psyche of its lead female protagonist bogged down in cynicism and personalized agony. In what could have been dismissed as another clichéd damaged damsel-in-distress role comes alive and purposeful courtesy of actress Rachel Kerbs’ concentrated and sympathetic performance as the broken young woman juggling both an emotional horrific past tied in with an uneventfully current complex existence. Heske’s characterizations are all impishly realized with glorious, wayward imperfections. Blessid tapped into its effective yet predictable chilliness.
The Massachusetts-based Sarah and Edward Duncliffe (Kerbs, “The Paddy Lincoln Gang” and Gene Silvers, “Edge of Salvation”) are merely going through the loveless motions as husband and wife. It is almost criminal that the Duncliffes (particularly Sarah) are stillborn in their passion for one another. The film’s sequence opens with an intense morning-time love-making session featuring Edward laboriously trying to satisfy a seemingly distant and indifferent Sarah whose aroused reaction is comparable to that of a cold fish on a slab. We learn a lot of things about the dejected Sarah from the get-go such as her physical and mental frailties that often find her hospitalized.
Edward, unsatisfied with the constant sullen and despondent Sarah, warns his pregnant 27-year old wife that her moodiness and moping is a threatening sign to their marriage and growing family. Sarah mechanically responds back that Edward is trying too hard to please her with trivial gifts and gratitude. Their heated discussion reveals Sarah’s checkered background as a teen mental patient for whom Edward’s bragging and insensitive quip results in the harsh pronouncement, “I rescued you from that sanitarium by marrying you!” Edward goes on to bad-mouth Sarah’s down-spiraling demeanor and warns her that she better not return to the bad seed she previously was with the reinforcement of her “screwed up” family. In short, Edward is not the most tactful individual and Sarah is not the most embracing as well.
The Duncliffes, to be blunt, are a royal mess. Edward’s sudden business trip is nothing more than a booty call opportunity when a young woman shows up at his motel doorstep ready to offer him some delicious “candy” (one is sure to get a kick out of the spontaneous double entendre). However, Sarah is no saint in the game of fidelity either as we discover a brief affair with her insufferable and explosive ex-boyfriend Evan (Chris Divecchio, “Dark Moon Rising”). Now Evan wants to stick around and claim Sarah for his boorish self for which she wants no part. The relentlessly abusive and obnoxious Evan advises Sarah that she better get used to him being in the picture — stalking her through text messaging, letter writing and unwanted visitations to her home. He even suggests that the child Sarah is carrying is his . . .
As if Sarah does not have enough random chaos surrounding her with the crippling pregnancy, the Edward/Evan-related disgust and the barrage of haunting reminders from yesteryear involving disturbing imagery of her late baby sister Tracy (who died in a lake accident that left Sarah feeling immensely guilty) and a stone cold punishing mother (Kate Jurdi, “Black Mass”) Sarah finds something rather transfixing concerning her maturing — yet odd — neighbor across the street in balding and black-toothed Jedediah Cross (Rick Montgomery Jr., “I Dare You to Kill Her”). It does not take long for Sarah to break ice with Jedediah and form an unlikely friendship through gradual conversations, car rides and visits to each other’s homes.
The gracious Jedediah (and his trusty pet cat) seems to be Sarah’s occasional life line in the time of need. She is always hallucinating, sleep-waking and engaging in deep-seeded napping that induces the painful and tragic memories of sibling Tracy and of course her hideously neglectful mother. Suddenly, Sarah finds out the surreal truth about the mystical Jedediah and his backstory that comes into play involving her turbulent histrionics. The audience finds the tandem of walking wrecking ball Sarah Duncliffe and the immortal and comforting Jedediah Cross (the religious allegory to another revered “J.C.” we all know too well from the Holy Book) very liberating and sacred. That is, of course, until corrosive cad Evan comes into the furious fold as he cannot lose his chance to play footsies with Sarah because of this haggard-looking has-been corrupting her obstinate mind . . .
Indeed, Blessid has its share of lapses but overall this is a solid, vigorous exposition that dares to take on its meandering menu of reflection, redemption, and the ritualistic steps of healing through faith and self-discovery. There is never a moment when one feels manipulated or uncovers signs of pretentiousness. The story dips its toxic (and occasionally tender) toes in the arena of a feminine enigma trying to sort out her authentic flaws and feelings. Kerbs brings a refreshing and vibrant pathos to Sarah that registers with the right kind of doomed balance. Montgomery’s Jedediah is strikingly captivating as the soft-spoken savior armed with philosophical worldliness. Divecchio’s Evan is ruthlessly dynamic as the intrusive psycho that creates unrest and dubious doubts for our treasured twosome. However vulnerable and exposed that Kerbs’s Sarah conveys is equally as impressive as Montgomery’s take as the magical mainstay wading through the annals of recorded human time.
The film would have increased its thematic stock, however, had it focused more on the welcoming bond between Kerbs’s Sarah and Montgomery’s Jedediah as their chemistry and connection really ignited the decency and indignities of their on-screen personas. Had the film played down some of the incidental characters and held back some of the disheartening flashbacks of the perished little sisters then the production could have been much tighter in tone and structure. Still, Blessid radiates defiantly with composer Federico Chávez Blanco’s soothing musical score and Silas Tyler’s glossy and crisp cinematography. The New England setting (specifically Salem, MA) is the idyllic backdrop for Fitz’s landscape of lost souls in search of self-preservation. Perhaps some of the more big-budgeted and heralded Hollywood vehicles could rip a page out of the film’s creative playbook and get back to the genuine source of peril within the underlying heart and soul.