Red White & Blue (2010) d. Simon Rumley
Horror fans have been promoting Red White & Blue pretty heavily. It’s getting a lot of play and buzz on genre sites and is spreading pretty quickly via word of mouth. I’m becoming more and more interested in the question of “What is a horror film and what is classified as a horror film?” I have always been one of the stalwarts that argues “Horror is a Big Tent genre.” I’m always comfortable with putting films that might otherwise be considered a stretch by a stricter definition into the horror camp. But I’ve started to rethink this a bit. It began when I saw genre sites placing The Disappearance of Alice Creed unabashedly within the confines our favorite genre. That film is very clearly not a horror film and I’m wondering whether the definition of horror is changing, or if fans are just so desperate for quality movies that we’re adopting stuff that shouldn’t be considered horror at all, all willy nilly like. The hard truth is that Red White & Blue is not a horror film. Keep that question in mind when you watch it, which you should (It’s available currently on Netflix Instant).
Red White & Blue follows the lives of three separate characters who all meet in gruesome and unexpected ways. First is Erica, a woman who drifts through life emotionally detached from everyone. She has no family or friends and spends most of her time having sex with random strangers in order to find some sort of human connection with those around her, always refusing to get closer to them than the act itself. After she loses her job, she meets an older man named Nate who offers her a job at a hardware store. Nate has his own emotional problems. He strikes an interest in Erica and although she is resistant at first, the two become close. He claims to be ex-CIA and has been offered a new black ops job and is just trying to decide whether or not to take it. The last major character of the story is Franki. Him and his garage band have just obtained a European tour and he is struggling to decide whether or not to embark on it. His mother has been in and out of the hospital due to cancer and his girlfriend briefly left him for another man. We see him and his band mates having group sex with a drunk Erica near the beginning of the movie. Unfortunately for him, that one time event turns out to be not so one time as both he, Erica, and Nate’s paths will cross in violent ways. To reveal any more plot points would be to spoil the film which I definitely don’t want to do. This is a film worth seeing. There might be some minor spoilers in the next paragraph, so just skip to the end if you don’t want the possibility of figuring out important events.
Though there is certainly some brutal violence in the last act of this film, violence in and of itself does not constitute a horror film. In fact, the first 2/3 rds of this movie reminded me more of a variation on Larry Clark’s Kids then it did a horror film (though maybe that would be a debate itself, whether Kids is horror). In all actuality, it’s more of a gritty, realistic drama with some revenge elements. This movie works because of the performances. Noah Taylor (Nate), Amanda Fuller (Erica) and Marc Senter (Franki) put in spectacular work. You get completely engrossed in these peoples lives and there is a bizarre “have to watch the train wreck” aspect that comes across much better than the work of somebody like Harmony Korine. When some of the stuff about the characters is revealed, it’s genuinely tragic, and, oddly, sympathetic. I felt myself liking these characters and feeling for them even though the actions that led to their problems were wholly despicable to me in many ways. That’s hard for a film to do and to be able to pull it off successfully is even rarer. The violence that is shown in the last act is definitely brutal but the acts themselves are not filmed in such a way to allow the viewer to revel in “Oh that’s awesome” blood and gore. For example, the final kill is disturbing, but the act itself is shown almost exclusively in extreme closeup. So you never get the full exploitative “look” at what is happening. Rather, you hear the screams and see brief cuts of what is happening. There’s enough restraint shown to allow a very excruciating scene to develop before your eyes without actually showing you the whole shebang. And it works perfectly.
One problem with the film is its slowness to develop. For example, there are multiple scenes early on of Erica having sex with various men. It goes on a little too long. I already “got” that she is emotionally screwed up and is using sex as a weapon of sorts. Some of that running time could have been used to further explore the relationship between Erica and Nate which was far more interesting and would have made Nate’s revenge a bit more powerful. The film is strange in that , about half way through, it just drops the Erica/Nate storyline to focus on Franki. It feels abrupt and sudden and by the time Erica and Nate come back into the picture, you’ve sort of lost that connection you might have had with them. The film would have been better served in showing Franki’s storyline at the same time, rather than just switching gears so suddenly. In the end though, Red White & Blue is a good little grimy flick. The acting is fantastic all around and if you can get past the first 20 minutes, you’ll be genuinely intrigued as to where the story will go and how these three characters end up crossing paths with each other. It’s a dirty film in the vein of Larry Clark with some nasty violence in the last act and worth checking out if you like that kind of film, which I do.