SXSW 2010: RED WHITE & BLUE Review

Peter Martin, Managing Editor
Gut-twisting and soul-troubling, Simon Rumley's latest film fires a stun gun into the heart of horror. For every convention that is honored, another is upended and a third is smashed to pieces. Red White & Blue amply demonstrates Rumley's continuing evolution as a filmmaker. 

It's not enough to say that Rumley traffics in the cinema of the uncomfortable, because that would deny the ribald humor and extreme, everyday horrors that lances his earlier work. The Living and the Dead brought him to the attention of genre fans in 2006, but Rumley's feature film career dates back to 2000, when he made Strong Language, the first of three films that revolved around youth culture in Britain. Young people chat amiably about their adventures, the scenes alternating with shadowy scenes recreating a horrible night for the narrator. 

The Truth Game (2001) plays around with a dinner party scenario, in which six friends gather and learn secrets about one another over the course of an evening. The revelations are not the expected ones, and the night does not play out as might seem pre-ordained. Club Le Monde (2002) moves the action in and out of a hip, happening nightclub, with patrons who are not all hip and happening. It's a bouncy and vibrant flick, and feels atypically upbeat for the director. 

All three films deserve wider exposure and a Region 1 DVD release. Thematically, The Living and the Dead was a bold stride forward, positing an awkward, squirm-inducing scenario in which a disturbed young man ends up trying to care for his sickly mother. It's domestic horror of the finest kind, especially as the house-bound scenes spiral out of control, but it's only a springboard for a mind-blowing ... well, why spoil things for those who haven't seen it yet?

The Living and the Dead starts from the idea of a nuclear family that's about to explode in domestic turmoil. Red White & Blue begins with a lone woman who wants to remain that way. Erica (Amanda Fuller) jumps from one casual sexual encounter to another, denying any attempts to get to know her on a personal level, even as potentially shady men (Marc Senter and the great Noah Taylor) circle around her. The conventional part of the story is that we know something ... bad ... will happen, but we're not quite sure by whose hands the evil will be wrought. 

Even if you figure out the entire plot early on, that doesn't mean your nervous system will stop trying to leap out of your body. Shooting at dozens of exterior locations for the first time, Rumley varies the framing and adds and subtracts colors from the film's palette at will, thanks to his collaboration with ace cinematographer Milton Kam. It makes the exterior feel as though it's interior, the characters trapped by the lines of buildings and doorways and shower stalls. 

As with all of Rumley's films, music and sound design are very important, and in this case they help keep things entirely off-balance. The acting by Fuller and Taylor are perfectly pitched: Fuller comes across as a sad, haunted woman, and Taylor as a menacing brute hiding behind a face full of hair and stand-offish body language. Senter is the most annoying, a self-absorbed musician, but he has just as much justification for his actions as anyone.

Full disclosure: I know personally a few of the people who worked on this project, and so I may not be entirely fair and balanced in my review. See it for yourself and decide whether this is one of the more challenging, exhausting, nerve-wrecking movies of the year.

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