Sitting in a darkened room with 15 people, my toes were so curled I could almost kick my kneecaps. Across the room I saw winces, hands across eyes and heads fully turned from the screen. “Oh my…” breathed the woman behind and I wondered who would pass out. They stoically clung on with me, though. We made it through.
The second half of Simon Rumley’s Red, White & Blue kicks your punished psyche into some pretty deep, dark holes. Thankfully your trust is earned with the fascinating drama of the first half. Erica (Amanda Fuller) vacuums by day and vamps by night. In a new bar every night she picks up men with ease, never sleeping with the same one twice. Anyone who gets too close is shunned.
Franki (Marc Senter) is in a band, possibly on the verge of success. They practise rock music in a garage until it’s time for Franki to donate blood to his sick mother. Some of the most heart-rending scenes are between Franki and his mother. That he loves her and wants to help her is never in question.
Nate (Noah Taylor) lives in the same boarding house as Erica. A confessed torturer of animals and CIA operative (or fantasist), Nate tries to break down Erica’s barriers by declaring everything to her. Their initially faltering relationship is frustrated by her indifference. When they do form a bond we witness a profound change in Erica. Cutting up the photo album of her sexual conquests, she finally comes to Nate’s room. They lie together and he makes a crazy suggestion…
Rumley uses a short sequence from one of my favourite films, Carnival of Souls, to signify a turning point. “I’ll never come back,” says Mary. After this moment, none of the characters is able to return to where they were. Then Franki receives terrible news. Something severe enough to change his life, and potentially those of family and friends.
Subsequently there is a rapid descent into one of the very lowest levels of hell, the slow-burn opening giving way to an incendiary denouement. Red, White & Blue is not torture porn. Nor is it gory, sensationalist or cheap. What begins to feel like Dead Man’s Shoes by Shane Meadows or even Death Wish by Michael Winner soon turns into a revenge drama of a different colour. With grim finality it goes beyond revenge into territory occupied by Takashi Miike’s Audition. Most violence is implied. Like the shower scene in Psycho, our eyes see far less than our brains think they saw. Electrifying cuts and distorted bursts of music heighten the anxiety.
Rumley’s film is most certainly a multi-headed beast, uneasily mixing human drama with staggeringly bold nastiness. The sound-design is especially impressive as are the editing and performances. Special mention goes to Sally Jackson as Franki’s mother for a tender, human portrayal of a very ill woman, as well as Amanda Fuller, who makes troubled Erica brave and then vulnerable but never insipid or weak.
Be warned: this film will shock. Yet it’s not your standard horror/revenge fare. Its messages are open to discussion (what is revealed by Nate pushing past the US flags outside Franki’s house? Are the CIA involved in torture? Why does the boy’s mother accept Erica?) but Red, White & Blue has a human heart and is just as beautiful, conflicted and unpredictable as any of us.
Red, White & Blue is now screening at selected cinemas nationwide. Watch the trailer here. The DVD will be released on 10th October at all major retailers. For more information, visit the distributor’s website.