Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In Honor of Flag Day, Let's Do This:

So here’s the thing: I can’t really discuss today’s feature, 2010’s Red White & Blue without revealing a major plot point that emerges nearly one hour in. If you haven’t seen the film--and I do recommend it, providing you ‘enjoy’ similarly mean and complex horror along the lines of Jack Ketchum--then I would urge you to admire this photo of an adorable puppy carrying an American flag--

And now leave.

All others, here goes:

Quick Plot: Erica (a hauntingly straightforward Amanda Fuller) works menial manual labor jobs during the day while prowling cheap bars when the sun goes down. With white cowgirl boots riding high, the pretty enough redhead beds a man (or three) each night, never repeating herself or lingering for a morning spooning. She mysteriously draws the line (and closes her legs) at Nate, a war veteran and former interrogator now slumming away at a hardware store and boarding house.

Nate is played by British actor Noah Taylor, something you might not believe until IMDB tells you so. With a wiry black beard and loaded Texas drawl, the actor formerly known (to me) as Charlie Bucket’s dad or the Exposition Deliverer in Vanilla Sky disappears into the role of a self-aware sociopath with a mushy soft spot for the cold Erica.

A hesitant courtship follows, cutting off just at a point where it seems our mismatched would-be lovers might get serious. The film switches to the point-of-view of Frankie (The Lost’s Marc Senter), an almost maybe kinda successful rocker balancing a busboy job with his band’s upcoming tour and mother’s cancer treatment. The switch is odd, but not unreasonable; we should remember Frankie as one of the three men who picked up Erica in the opening scene.

In case you didn’t read my intro or decided to take a gamble (much like a few key characters in Red White & Blue), I’m about to get spoilery. Walk away kids. Walk. A. Way.

Frankie gets some bad news in the form of an HIV positive diagnosis, a double whammy since he’s been donating blood to his mother. He concludes--and we an the audience can *almost* be sure--that his one night of unprotected sex with Erica is to blame. Upon dragging her to his basement, it’s more or less confirmed. Erica was raped as a young girl and has essentially spent her life apathetically spreading her disease to any male irresponsible enough to blow his chances on a few hours of condomless sex with a stranger.

What to make of that? What Erica is doing is akin to murder, something made all the more powerful when we see the snowball effects that poisons Frankie’s innocent mother (wonderfully played by Sally Jackson). At the same time, Frankie made his own choice, playing Russian Roulette with his penis. It’s a risk people are taking every day.

Oh but the film doesn’t end there. Come now, this has been dubbed one of the more disturbing films of the year for very different reasons than moral quandaries. Frankie holds onto Erica for a night, creepily seducing her and making a doomed marriage proposal. It does not end well.

Once Nate discovers Erica’s fate, things get...bad. Families are slaughtered. New uses for deadly duct tape are discovered. Stab wounds juiced. It’s ugly. It’s senseless. It’s a nihilistic roller coaster that ends with pure hell.

Hugging your pound puppy yet? Feel like you learned anything about humanity, America, sexual responsibility or vengeance? I can’t say that I have. Part of me wants to roll my eyes at Red White & Blue’s pretentiousness, balk at its self-important title and passive aggressive attempt at linking everything from the Iraq War to revenge-fueled beheadings.

Red White & Blue IS pretentious, but it’s also quite fascinating as both a film and moral question asker. The three lead actors are excellent, giving vanity-free and layered performances that don’t let their characters off the hook. Though the score occasionally oversteps its place, it’s generally well-done with a sound entirely of its own. I don’t quite know how Red White & Blue was supposed to make me feel, but during its running time, I didn’t want to think about anything else and now that it’s over, it’s still there. While that's not necessarily the sign of an enjoyable film, it does make it worth watching for a certain type of viewer.

High Points
Credit must also go to the look of the film, in particular, its actual characters. Fuller is an attractive young actress, but the film is smart enough to let her look natural, patchy skin and all. It’s refreshing to believe our characters as real people, something too many films are too terrified to try

Low Points
As I said, the soundtrack does become a tad obtrusive at times

Lessons Learned
Never send a diner burger back to a Texas kitchen

When bound to a chair with your family’s life hanging in your voice, listen to the crazed war veteran asking you questions and for goodness sake, answer them 

Condoms people. Condoms.

Red White & Blue is currently streaming on Neflix and is certainly worth a thoughtful viewing, providing you enjoy complicated and brutal horror that tries to/might be socially important. I’m still not entirely sure where I fall, but I’m glad I watched the film and look forward to eventually revisiting it with a director commentary track. It does make me curious to seek out filmmaker Simon Rumley’s other work, including the also-Instant Watch The Living and the Dead. I like his ambition and directorial guts.

Now let's forget our problems with another helping of flag puppies:


  1. This vaguely reminds me of a Japanese horror film called Living Hell (naturally it was dubbed as 'The Japanese Chainsaw Massacre', despite it having zero chainsaws and nada massacres). It's a film that's sorta Ketchum-y, with the film's violence escalating until it becomes one with the title.

  2. Oooooh I'm quite intrigued and will look into that one. I've seen ANOTHER film called Living Hell but that was a SyFy Channel original that did not disturb. Will definitely seek this one out. I love these kinds of films that make me hate the world.

  3. Heh, interesting find....
    I will queue this one.

    Great review!

  4. I started reading this post yesterday and then stopped at the 2nd spoiler alert and I'm glad I did. Great acting- I was impressed by both the look and score of the film and didn't find it pretentious. Disturbing and unsettling? Yes. I'd watch more of Rumley's work, too.

  5. Enjoy Andrew!

    Glad you went into it without knowing too much John. Rumley's other film, The LIving and the Dead, is sitting high on my queue so I'm hoping to get to it soon. Definitely a filmmaker to watch.

  6. This is one of the most soul crushing films I've ever watched. There's no real villain in the film, just three very fucked up characters. The closest thing you have to a "bad guy" is donating blood to keep his cancer riddled mom alive for cripes sakes.

  7. Agreed Mike. Senter's character is actually a REALLY nice guy when things are okay, and when he goes off the deep end, you understand (not agree, but understand). It's a complicated one...

  8. Bit late but I'm pretty sure Noah Taylor is Australian, he seems to be a master of accents though.

  9. Ain't no time limit here! Thanks!

  10. Just watched this for my October/Halloween tally. It reminds me of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in spots. You have two of the main characters living on society's fringes, circling the drain to nowhere. But the movie blends the fringes with middle-class society and how things can spiral out of control for regular people.

    There is no real baddie here. Just three people not able to process what life has given them. Their emotional scars impact them in ways that are realistic and truly painful. They all go over the edge and bring down others in the process.

    Not a perfect film--it really is too pretentious for that. But a good movie and the best (or worst?) kind of horror film: the one that can actually happen in real life. Noah Taylor is really good.

    Thanks for mentioning it so many months ago!

  11. So glad to hear your thoughts on it! Definitely a tad pretentious for its own good, but still such a great exploration of these three people. I can definitely see the Henry comparison now that you mentioned it. If you get a a chance, check out The Living and the Dead. Not quite as accomplished as Red White & Blue, but quite an interesting watch. Rumley is a director that I'm definitely looking forward to following in the future.