- Author Becky Roberts
- Published May 9, 2014
Why I love… Red, White & Blue
Becky Roberts – from What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision – loves a bit of horror. But nothing has stayed with her quite as terrifyingly as this revenge thriller… Even if it was her sixth movie of the day.
I often refer to Red, White & Blue as: ‘number 24, 2010.’
A sunny August Bank Holiday weekend in 2010. I spent the four days watching 25 films at the cinema back-to-back. It wasn’t to cash in on a load of soon-expiring cinema vouchers or to satisfy an immense popcorn craving. I was attending Film4 Frightfest – an annual London horror film festival.
It was a festival of ‘firsts’ for me: the first time I’d been in a room of hardcore horror fans; first time I’d reached double figures in popcorn consumption in one weekend and first time I’d watched six films in a day (before, I’d considered watching Halloween 1, 2 and 3 the ultimate movie marathon).
But out of that 25-strong line-up, one stuck out, and that was the 24th: Simon Rumley’s Red, White & Blue. In fact, having tallied up a further 78 films over the festival’s following three years, it is still the one the beat: number 24, 2010.
Honour among the horror
I’ll never forget the buzz in the auditorium as like-minded aficionados huddled together in preparation for the next billing. Taking our seats, I still felt like a small fish in a large ocean in Leicester Square Empire’s humungous Screen 1 (RIP) and remember performing subtle stretches to warn off a numb bum. “Is this what it takes to be a film critic?” I naively thought.
The theatrical red curtains drew (I love how it did that) and the murmur quickly died down.
Red, White & Blue isn’t your traditional run-of-the-mill horror: it’s not a slasher, not supernatural; there’s no axe-wielding serial killer or mythical monster in sight. It’s a psycho-sexual indie horror or, as I perhaps prefer to understand it, a revenge thriller. And it’s brilliant:
Erica (Amanda Fuller) is a promiscuous, estranged young woman who mops floors by day and sleeps with the willing men of Austin, Texas by night. Emotionally withdrawn and tormented sexual abuse as a child, the HIV-infected bedhopper doesn’t care about passing on her disease.
Erica is a lost soul until Nate (Noah Tyler), an equally-disaffected war veteran, comes along. He finds comfort with her company and she with his. Before long, their initially awkward interaction blossoms into a tender friendship.
Meanwhile, the story skips to young wannabe-rock-star Franki (Marc Senter), who juggles music ambitions with caring for his cancer-suffering mother. More poignantly, he’s just had a one-night-stand with Erica… oops.
When the revelation of her actions and his consequential fate hits home, their lives intertwine in a series of violent, revenge-fuelled events. As for Nate, he isn’t going to just sit on the sidelines.
Loving revenge tragedy
Aside from that it’s an interesting, albeit tragic, story of random connections, I was drawn to its split personality. I’m yet to find a movie so brutal, yet so touching at the same time. It’s a strange synergy – a contrast like nothing I’d seen before – and one I found compelling.
At one point or another we care about each character and sympathize with their unfortunate predicament: Franki’s contracted disease, Erica’s traumatic past, Nate’s uncompromising compassion for her. But as each has their turn as prey and predator, their pain at the hands of one another seems fitting. Its ability to make you both care about them and dislike them, want them to enact revenge and receive it, in just over 90 minutes is astonishing.
What Red, White & Blue does well is put you in a false sense of security before shocking you to the core. The ambling slow-burn carefully crafted in the first hour of character portraits and gritty scene-setting loses all inhibition in a shot, forcing you onto a ride of rabid emotion and unnerving torture scenes. When Nate asks a little girl “would you like to stay alive or die with your mummy and daddy?” you can’t help but wince.
I like gore – fictional gore, might I add – and to say this has a bloody ending would be an understatement. But never had I seen such artistry in violence before. Graphic yet poetic, harrowing yet eye-catching, it’s a mesmerising and imaginative visceral experience – and looked gorgeous on the big screen in its uncut version.
Blu-ray does the gritty low-budget effects a fine justice too, and though the DVD cut shaves a few minutes off the original, it’s just as gruelling.
Try to watch – try not to watch
Everyone is scared by a movie character. For me, Nate is up there. As his mental instabilities surface, we see his gentle-natured self manifest into a cruel and calculated killing machine. Performances are sublime across the board but Tyler’s portrayal of the sadistic psychopath stands out. He’s genuinely terrifying. And as he takes a knife to Franki’s neck over Richard Chester’s eerily patient, piano-led score, you can either turn your head or grin and bear it…
Red, White & Blue isn’t easy – nor is it easy to pinpoint the reasoning behind the title. And considering I spent hours deliberating that afterwards, I’ll leave that one to you.
Becky Roberts is staff writer at What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision magazine.
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