A lot of otherwise quite avid moviegoers avoid horror films outright because of an aversion to gore or violence, but if you dig deeper in conversation you’ll find an equal or greater number that are more turned off by the violence’s lack of connection to tangible motivating factors. They want to know and be able to identify with — albeit sometimes in only exclusionary fashion — a killer if they’re going to take a trip to a nasty and brutish place, in other words.
Red White & Blue is a film that invests wholeheartedly in the foreboding set-up of its characters and their predicaments on its slow, winding road trip toward Very Bad Things; it’s one of those stunning, gem-find indie movies that creeps up on you like a dark, sudden storm cloud in the middle of a summer afternoon. Marked by stellar performances and sophisticated storytelling, the film is a powerful, visceral and surprisingly emotionally tangible dramatic thriller — an edgy, psychologically charged tale, unfolding in triptych structure, that grounds itself in real-world problems before veering off into darker territory.
Austinite Erica (Amanda Fuller) is a troubled nymphomaniac whose tough veneer and sexual acting out masks deep and private wounds. She lives rent-free in a small co-op as a trade-off for housework, but when her living situation changes she gets a job at a nearby hardware store. Despite getting off on the wrong foot with Nate (Noah Taylor, above), a mysterious Iraq War vet who claims to be mulling over a job offer from the CIA, Erica forms a hesitant bond with her neighbor, in part informed by the fact that he’s the only guy who doesn’t seemingly immediately want to sleep with her.
Old actions can have terrible lingering consequences, however. Though his mother Ellie (Sally Jackson) is suffering from a terminal illness, things seem to be on the occupational upswing for musician Franki (Marc Senter). Until, that is, his previous one-night fling with Erica — part of a boozy orgy with a pair of his rocker pals — comes back to haunt him, bringing to bear unforeseen costs for a whole host of people.
Red White & Blue is British writer-director Simon Rumley’s follow up to the acclaimed and oddly personal horror film The Living and The Dead, and his deft touch with multiple tonalities is again in evidence. The first three-quarters or more of the film doesn’t touch the rails of horror at all; it’s a gritty little drama about fringe-dwelling characters in pain, and Rumley trades in woozy montages and still frames that convey a sense of depressed place with startling economy and clarity. Once the discrete narratives coalesce, though, the movie picks up a certain doomed downhill momentum, wringing tension from violence lurking around the story’s edges, and then, finally, bursting forth in ugly fashion.
A couple of the narrative pivots or reactions may at first blush seem odd (Franki’s behavior toward Erica, for one), but they stem from recognizably human places. There’s an almost subliminal electric energy attached to all the characters, and Rumley doesn’t overwrite his story, stuffing it to the seams with explanatory dialogue pitched at highlighting action for a lowest-common-denominator audience. Instead, he invests time and energy in establishing an audience connection to the largely unarticulated but nonetheless engaging, parallel inner dialogues and lives of these characters, and then foisting terrible choices and situations upon them. What happens is not pleasant, but it’s darkly understandable, in its own way, and perhaps that’s the most effectively unsettling element of Red White & Blue. For more information on the film, and its special theatrical engagements and VOD listings, click here. (IFC Midnight, R, 103 minutes)