Director Joshua Marston demonstrated his ability to sustain almost unbearable dramatic tension in his debut feature film, Maria Full of Grace. His sophomore effort, The Forgiveness of Blood, illustrates an impressive deepening of that skill. Working from a script co-written by Andamion Murataj and with a cast of nonprofessional actors who do extraordinary work, Marston tells the Hatfield and McCoy–like story of two sparring Albanian families whose conflicts lead to a death in one clan shortly after the movie begins. The fallout from that bloodshed is the film’s razor-sharp focus. This ranges from the religion-infused cultural dictate that the killer’s family submit to housebound isolation (lest that family’s males be fair game for revenge), to the flouting of socially prescribed gender rules that would bar the teen daughter of the killer from taking over the family business after her father goes into hiding. Some of the film’s most nerve-racking moments revolve around Nik (Tristan Halilaj), the teenage son of the killer, who, in the midst of a fledgling high school romance, broods and chafes against being tied to his house. His adolescent narcissism leads him to not only take foolish risks, but also to possibly commit an act of unforgivable betrayal. Marston nails the claustrophobia of small-town life and the turbulent emotionalism of teenagers, but what pushes the film toward sublimity is the way he delicately captures all of the characters’ inner lives as their world slowly crumbles.