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Ben Austwick [Film Festival 09.03.10] movie review thriller drama mystery

Year: 2010
Directors: Simon Rumley
Writers: Simon Rumley
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ben Austwick
Rating: 9 out of 10

Starting out as a distasteful-seeming morality tale, morphing into complicated and well scripted social realism and ending in some of the nastiest home invasion scenes you're likely to see, it isn't a surprise that Red, White and Blue's cross-genre approach to film making wasn't a hit with everyone at Frightfest. For some of us though it was the highlight of the weekend, a horrific, powerful film of real moral complexity.

The opening shows Erica, an obviously disturbed young woman, in a series of casual sex scenes, after which she scrubs herself in the shower in a rather heavy-handed visual shorthand for self-disgust. It's a slightly uncomfortable start as Erica's promiscuity is presented as necessarily a result of some kind of self-loathing, and not just, well, fun. Learning that she refuses to use condoms and doesn't have sex with people she likes just seems to lay it on even thicker, but this turns out to be crucial to the plot.

She inhabits a sleazy world of bars and motels in Austin, Texas, the film style social realist, slow burning and naturalistic. The live rock shows and parties she frequents could encourage an uncharitable indie label for the film but it's too realistically portrayed for that, the squalor unpleasant rather than artfully cool. Into this well-realised setting comes Nate, an Iraq veteran drifting through various casual jobs, who takes a liking to Erica.

One of the first things Nate does is explain to Erica that he is a dangerous man. He tells a story of torturing animals in his childhood, setting a parakeet on fire with lighter fluid to see if it would flap its wings faster to put out the flames, burying a dog up to its neck to see if it could dig itself out. His parents bought him a kitten to see if they could get rid of this nasty streak, and he loved the kitten all he could – but carried on torturing other animals just the same. He's telling Erica that she'll be safe with him, that he likes her and will protect her, and woe betide anyone who harms her; but also, by putting his trust in her in this way, he's letting on that he knows she has a secret too.

It's a secret that comes back to haunt Erica, starting a chain of events that spiral to a horrible conclusion. Frustrated, impotent violence is meted out, its victims resorting to it in turn, never malicious but born of a lack of options and a hard-wired desire for revenge. This moral quagmire is harrowing to watch and its victims are well-drawn enough to extract real sympathy from the viewer, one character's fate in particular an upsetting episode that stayed with me long after the film finished.

Red, White and Blue isn't your average revenge movie. Its naturalistic style sets up characters and situations with more believability than most horror films, the violence in turn real and distressing. The revenge itself isn't a mere narrative device but central to the film, a base act of animal stupidity that only begets more violence. Its a sleazy, nasty film of such effectiveness you'll want to scrub it off in the shower yourself after seeing it.

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