Review: Red, White and Blue (18) / Directed by: Simon Rumley / Written by: Simon Rumley / Starring: Amanda Fuller, Marc Senter, Jon Michael Davis
The period in the late 70s and early 80s that introduced some extreme cinema and films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are seen as a reaction to the end of the 60s and the era that brought us the Manson family murders and Watergate. It’s possible that we are now living through a similar reflective period in horror filmmaking and that in years to come film historians will look back on films like Hostel and Saw as a representation of these troubled times. Simon Rumley’s Red, White and Blue feels like a product that is reflective of the years under the Bush administration and a portrait of a country rotting from the inside out. Whereas previous films could be seen as the scars carried by a country still recovering from events like Hurricane Katrina and September 11th, Red, White and Blue is a festering, infected open wound of a film, anger pouring from every frame. It is also amongst the most powerful films I have seen this year.
Our film begins following troubled and distant nymphomaniac Erica (Amanda Fuller) as night after night she trawls bars and clubs in Austin, Texas and succumbs to easy sex with partners who she barely knows. When threatened with eviction, Erica meets the damaged Iraq war veteran Nate (Noah Taylor) who was ‘honourably discharged’ and is unusually nice to her. Initially Erica is reluctant to accept Nate’s offers of kindness but, increasingly desperate for money, she takes a job he gets her in a hardware store. Erica then proceeds to sleep with most of the staff to Nate’s disapproval. One day Nate saves her from an assault and the two of them start to bond, Erica’s defences are gradually brought down to reveal just how damaged she really is. Meanwhile across town, young band member and one of Erica’s previous partners Franki (Marc Senter) discovers he is HIV positive and seeks out Erica whom he believes infected him. Secrets are revealed, tragedy turns to violence and Nate reveals just how dangerous he really is.
As a rule I am not against extreme cinema, I respect the filmmakers right to show whatever he feels is necessary in the name of artistic expression. But I know my own limits; I will never watch A Serbian Film or Human Centipede 2 just because I know there are certain things I never want to see on film. Whilst watching Red, White and Blue I found myself feeling queasy and it wasn’t due to the violence on screen, it was the subject matter. True horror should make you feel uncomfortable and shouldn’t be an easy thing to watch, there is a place for creature features and ghost films but I’ve always felt the point of horror is to make you feel revolted or disturbed. As this film unfolds things get very intense, a lot of uncomfortable subject matter is dealt with very matter of factly and at one point when a character reveals something, the rug is well and truly pulled from under you and nothing in the film is safe. One particularly intense scene had me sit up right in my chair because I couldn’t believe that Rumley actually went there and put that on screen when other filmmakers would have merely hinted at it. The film is ugly, shot on digital with natural lighting and no make up for the actors; it has a realistic washed out look that reflects the ugly side of every day life that the film deals with.
This film would be nothing without the brilliant performances of its three leads and these are some of the best from an independent film for some time. Noah Taylor is a face you have seen before in the likes of Almost Famous and Submarine, here he is playing a character that is a coiled snake. His unassuming appearance and posture help to really sell a character that is capable of great kindness and decency and also savage violence. Taylor’s goofy charm really works in his scenes with Amanda Fuller and it’s understandable that she could latch on to such a person. On the flipside his dark eyes, wiry frame and calm demeanour really hint at the darkness within. Amanda Fuller as Erica is an incredibly brave performance, this is a role that called for constant nudity and no make up and is something that no Hollywood starlet would ever be brave enough to take on. The character is brilliantly written with a minimum of dialogue and Fuller sells a world of internal pain often with just a look. When a big reveal happens for the character, Fuller does so with the minimum of emotion to just convey enough to make you doubt all the sympathy that you previously had for the character. Marc Senter is cast as what would typically be the ‘villain’ role in this film but it’s hard to see the character as such. The character he plays is ultimately the character who goes on the biggest emotional journey in the whole film, he starts off really unlikeable and as we get to know him and see what his life is like and the tragedy starts to pile up he ultimately gets the most sympathy of all of these battered individuals. Senter really rises to the occasion too, his eventual fate should make you pleased in typical horror comeuppance fashion but it really doesn’t, in fact it’s so brutal that it almost makes you cry.
Simon Rumley has made a great film here, it’s an ugly, depressing film on a par with Requiem for a Dream or David Fincher’s Seven. I haven’t gone into detail over plot points on purpose because part this films power comes from seeing them unfold. Rumley very carefully lets each character gradually reveal themselves to you either by their actions or a line of dialogue. The editing is very clever in that it will present you with what seems to be a pivotal scene then, just as you think you are about to get a major secret from a character’s dialogue, it very quickly cuts to the next scene. Important events often happen off camera and a lot of the climax is left to your imagination which somehow works to make it even more powerful. Quite often the scenes in which Marc Senter is called on to display nervous breakdown levels of emotion are completely silent on the soundtrack with just the characters face twisted with pain.
I can’t recommend Red, White and Blue highly enough to fans of the power of cinema. It’s a testament to good writing and direction over gore (although it is here) to get your shocks and Rumley should have a major career ahead of him. Plus he is British and a film this powerful made about America post 9/11 by a brit is something to celebrate.
Extras: Trailer, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Character teaser trailers.
'Red, White and Blue' is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray