A young man visits a sick friend at home in his big, nearly empty family estate where the friend’s supposedly sick but reclusive sister also dwells.
They are the last in their line, isolated, with no prospects for or interest in extending it.
The bones of “The Bloodhound” are a straight borrowing of Edgar Allen Poe. It’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” only set in some Mid Century Modern house, a glass and steel multi-story affair perched on a hillside in Southern California.
But that classic tale is but the framework for the surreal creepiness first-time writer-director Patrick Picard serves up here.
That title suggests the nature of the threat to this declining family in their isolation, a creature out of the dreams of heir Jean Paul Luret (Joe Adler of “Grey’s Anatomy” and the recent “Twin Peaks” reboot). Some person, face obscured by a cloth hood, is seen crawling along a creek and then into this house, as if sniffing the floor, tracking a scent.
“JP” relates that dream among many others to his old friend Francis (Liam Aiken, who played the son in “Road to Perdition”). Francis takes them all in and tries to make sense of them all, the family predicament and his own in this seriously stylized spin through Poe Country. Not that he lets us in on his theories.
JP is rich, soft-spoken and understatedly eccentric. Please remove your shoes.
“I always get anxious when people wear their shoes in the house. It feels like they’re about to leave.”
He wonders if Francis is homeless, confesses to not having “set foot outside this place in two years.”
He weeps at sentimental black and white war movies, suggests they slip inside sleeping bags –upside down — and have a sort of worm wrestling match, gets in a fistfight with the pizza delivery guy and summons a singer and pianist for a command performance of art songs and operatic arias.
And JP steers Francis away from his sister, Vivian. Repeatedly.
“Don’t bother her.”
What’s the visitor to do when she visits him — in warning — late at night?
“Get out of here. You’ll die with the rest of us!”
Was Francis awake for this, or sleep-walking? Did he finish the night by wetting himself? JP not recalling any of that just heightens the paranoia.
Thumps from Vivian’s room, inside the closets and walls, almost go unnoticed. Perhaps it is “grandmother, who died here. Every now and then you can hear her sigh.”
And every so often, there’s a “visit” from whoever that is in the masked face, crawling, sniffing around, making a mess.
“The Bloodhound” is a cryptic story of sudden entrances and exits, of deadpan lines that have a random feel but sometimes comic effect.
“I don’t want to act like a crazy person” sounds that much crazier when the line is delivered with the flat calm we hear here.
Knowing the film’s Poe origins doesn’t unravel the mystery, but Picard’s deliberate pacing and chilly tone tend to obscure it.
A descent into madness, with a “bloodhound” sniffing out their secrets and their family decay? A “homeless” friend trapped amidst this wealth and weirdness in a house stuck in what looks like 1964?
“What was this, Francis? How did we get here?”
“You mean us, right here, or in general?”
Why not launch into a history of Evolution? Makes as much sense as anything else in “The Bloodhound.” Knowing Poe’s original story isn’t much help in gleaning the meaning of this willfully obscure “horror” tale.
Picard has woven an elaborate web, with every strand just so — story, design and performances, a film with visual coherence a soundscape that matches the tone of everything else.
But what was this, Francis?
MPA Rating: unrated, violence, profanity
Cast: Liam Aiken, Annalise Basso, Joe Adler
Credits: Scripted and directed by Patrick Picard. An Arrow release.
Running time: 1:12