Movies having to do with someone’s psychological state are always extremely intriguing. They have so much potential to be great, with their twists and turns and take on the human brain and its mental intrigues. Directors Tim Gordon and Wes Sullivan bring some mystery and  interest to a story that starts off strong, but because of its lack of expansion on its own story, veers slightly off course.

Ellis Andrews (David Aaron Baker) is hiding out to be alone after his brother’s death. He comes out of his self-alienation when he gets called back into work as a court-appointed psychiatrist. He’s assigned the case of Joel Stabler (Nathan Keyes), who has been put in jail for murdering his brother. Through a series of meetings and psychoanalysis, Ellis has the responsibility of discovering whether Joel is mentally fit to take the stand during his trial.

As Ellis meets with Joel and begins evaluating him, Ellis starts to find out that Joel has mental instability in his family, the brother that he killed suffering from it like his dad did before him. Joel also recalls his sister throughout his childhood, only for Ellis to find out from Joel’s mother (Cynthia Watros) that she died at birth. Ellis chalks all this up to the trauma that Joel is facing, but it’s easy to wonder if there isn’t something else going on.

The film, based on author Frank Turner Hollon’s work, starts off strong. There’s mystery, intrigue, and we slowly discover everything that’s going on as Ellis does, at least until the end of the second act. Their interactions are formal at first, but as the film progresses, we start to see Joel put his trust in Ellis. And Ellis starts to get more invested in Joel’s case and wants to prove somehow that he killed his brother for a reason, probably because he had a brother himself, but that’s just a guess since we never get enough information about Ellis to understand his motives.

About halfway through, the strength that the film has very early on is broken somehow, as we’re suddenly forced to swallow a lot of new information that doesn’t fit into the story as smoothly as one would hope. The movie asks us to reevaluate a lot of things about what we already know and there are some things that make sense and some that don’t. The areas that don’t make sense are all the things involving Ellis.


To start with, we never understand his motives. We know his brother died, and he’s miserable about it, living in a motel away from his family and everyone. But outside of that, there’s nothing that tells us anything about him. No reasons to understand why he took more of an interest in Joel and his fight to make him out as innocent. Maybe Ellis’s own mental state and possible depression led him to not study Joel or his circumstances completely. But there is no evidence of this in the film and we’re left to wonder how Ellis came to believe so much in Joel’s case and his fate that he doesn’t stop to reassess what’s really going on.

Ultimately, Blood and Circumstance is a psychological thriller-esque film that falters in its own narrative. It builds up a decent amount of momentum, all regarding Joel, and then turns everything upside down in what’s meant to be a shocking revelation, but winds up feeling flat. The plot twists and turns might have been more intriguing if there was more depth and psychological study of Ellis and his circumstances and why he let certain things slide when it’s his job to be thorough. A movie that falters under its own pressure.



About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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