Indie horror has taken a turn for the interesting in the last decade, with many low-budget films emerging that push the boundaries of what we actually consider to be a horror film at all. Sure, there’s a never-ending glut of cheap slashers, and mile-high body-pile of zombie films, but what has been grabbing me are the filmmakers pushing the genre forward; mixing horror sensibilities with other genres we typically steered away from when trying to make a fright-film. The idea of a horror-drama isn’t something necessarily new (Ingmar Bergman is probably the grandfather of the sub-genre), but it seems so perfectly suited to exploring darker themes on a low budgets that it’s a wonder they haven’t been more popular by filmmakers. No doubt it’s due to the break-through’s in technology in the last few years, allowing those without much money to grab a camera and a capable cast and simply go shoot it, and still come out with something a larger audience would want to watch.
Red White & Blue definitely has this rough-and-ready feel about it. We follow three fairly damaged characters; Erica (Amanda Fuller), an emotionally unstable woman who seems to use sex as payback against every man she meets, Franki (Marc Center), who’s a struggling musician, tasked with taking care of his terminally ill mother, and Nate (Noah Taylor), a transient ex-marine who happens to specialise in torture techniques and murder. We meet Erica in the opening scenes, drifting around bars and picking men up. Among her conquests are Franki and the rest of his band, who proceed to take her, one-by-one. Her life seems directionless, moving from one-night-stands to the next, barely able to keep paying her way in the boarding house in which she resides. One day, the bearded, tattooed Nate shows up, looking for a room. Nate and Erica strike up a reluctant friendship, one based around truth as opposed to sex. Still, it hasn’t stopped Erica from scratching notches on her bedpost, even taking to screwing guys she works with during lunch breaks as Nate watches on, helpless to stop her.
Franki eventually comes back into the story, and we see a more sensitive man than his ear piercings and rock band lifestyle would lead you to believe. He deeply loves his mother, and has a strong yearning to get back with his long-term girlfriend. Then, one day, he receives a phone call, and everything changes. He’s thrown back into Erica’s life, and things take a turn for the dark and violent when Nate figures out what’s happening…
It’s very easy to spoil what the plot twist is midway through Red White & Blue (do yourself a favour and avoid the IMDB page; the spoiler is listed in the first sentence of the plot description), but luckily I went into it blind, and found myself becoming increasingly queasy as the film progressed. Sometimes, it can be hard to know where to start with a film like this; the characters are not particularly nice or even remotely sympathetic, and even though Erica is one of the most horrific humans I’ve seen in a film in a long time, there are never attempts to justify her actions (beyond her own excuses offered up), which don’t even sound like she’s all that convinced, herself. It’s a brave move, and somehow it works. The same goes for all three leads; they are written in a cold, uncaring fashion, but what makes this a worthwhile journey is the performances themselves. All three bring something human to these monsters, with Amanda Fuller putting in what should have been a career-making performance. Despite everything that happens, there’s something touching about the quieter moments shared by Fuller and Noah Taylor, who despite his diminutive stature, brings a lot of menace and cruelty to his role.
What helps build in the naturalistic acting is the use of a near-documentary style in shooting; it helps us get drawn into this horrible world, warts and all. There’s only a few times I felt it slipped, and that was in some of the one-line characters feeling a bit ‘off’, but thankfully these are either the intro lines to a few short scenes or throwaway moments that you won’t dwell on. The final moments feel a tad obtuse, too, as a certain event seems to have happened off-screen, or else something might have been trimmed from the finished film. I’m unsure myself exactly what it means, but it seems to throw the ending a curve ball that just didn’t feel necessary. However, it’s a minor detail at the very end that a lot of people might pass by, due to them still feeling ill from the preceding 20 minutes of violence.
Kudos must be given to the excellent use of score; featuring mainly the somber tones of a piano, composer Richard Chester helps make even the earlier scenes of bar-hopping seem alien, depressing and somewhat disturbing. Director and writer Simon Rumley uses it in the same way as violence here; just enough to push the story along, but never wallowed in or used cheaply.
With excellent central performances and strong direction, Red White & Blue is well worth your time, especially if you are a fan of low-budget, edgy horror. The repugnant characters and nasty violence might not be to everyone’s tastes, but sometimes it’s comforting to watch films like this, even if it’s just to remind yourself that your life really isn’t that bad.