Would it be impolite to point out a filmmaker’s excellence as a director while also chastising their mediocrity as a writer? Perhaps, but thankfully I’m spared such a conundrum with Diane Bell’s Bleeding Heart, a surprisingly powerful thriller about an adopted woman who tries to rescue her biological sister from an abusive pimp. I wouldn’t call Bell a bad writer, but some of her writing comes off a bit wonky and on-the-nose. See if you follow me: May (Jessica Biel) works as a yoga instructor who prides herself on “healing” people but meets her match when confronted with her sister who just-so-happens to be named “Shiva” (Zosia Mamet). For the uninitiated, the Hindus worships Shiva as one of their three supreme gods. Believed to be responsible for the eventual destruction of the universe (so it may be remade), Hindu tradition also credits Shiva as the originator of yoga. During their early conversations, May and Shiva exchange such knowing bon mots as “you need an injury to grow” that beat the audience over the head with the film’s symbolism instead of letting it speak for itself. The symbolism finally climaxes with a cringe-worthy scene where Shiva’s pimp Cody (Joe Anderson) intimidates May with Robert Oppenheimer’s infamous “Now I am become Death” speech upon the first successful detonation of a nuclear bomb.
I suspect Bleeding Heart contains more nuance than most people would admit. Take, for example, the odd parallels between May and Shiva. A casual viewing reveals that both “service” people (Shiva initially describes herself to May as a “massager”). But a deeper viewing shows that both sisters come from unsupportive environments and maintain tumultuous relationships with their “loved ones.” May’s boyfriend Dex (Edi Gathegi) reacts with annoyance when Shiva enters their lives, May’s mother with outright hostility. Her interactions with her mother are so terse and strained that one could easily envision abuse lurking in their pasts.
I’m not sure the thriller genre best suits Bell. The best bits of Bleeding Heart involve the blossoming of the sisters’ tentative relationship: exchanges of jokes and photographs, stories and hopes. While Bell manages to channel a pronounced sense of dread and fear during the right moments, I always found myself eager for the suspenseful bits to end so the quiet moments could return. Though violent and thrilling, Bleeding Heart is first and foremost a film about healing.