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SXSW Movie Review: Red, White, and Blue

March 25, 2010

Just a quick story about my viewing of this movie before you read the review. The SXSW film festival had a screening room for press members to use this year, so if you missed a film you could “check out” the movie and go into the screening library and view it on a computer.  This was a great feature, and allowed me to squeeze in one last movie before our flight left  on Monday.  The room is set up like a boardroom, and their are six viewing “stations” set up around a long table.  The room was usually booked up, so whatever spot opens up is the one you get.  Naturally my spot was the one right next to  the door, and my computer screen was easily seen by anyone who walked by the room.

For reasons I never clearly understood, the powers that be insisted on propping the door open, so hundreds of people who were walking by on their way to panels and such were exposed to whatever was on my computer monitor.  This made my viewing experience quite humiliating, akin to watching a movie with explicit sex in it with your parents.  But instead of your parents, you are sharing the frequent and explicit sex scenes and then later torture scenes with hundreds of nerds who were there for the technical exhibits.  I was sweating profusely and had a maroon face for the entire running time of the movie.

Remember the first time you saw Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer? If you were like me, you felt a bit dirty by the end for watching it, and a little sick to your stomach due to its disturbing realistic violence. At the conclusion of Red, White, and Blue I had that same mix of shame and disgust, and I wasn’t exactly excited about an upcoming lunch of shredded beef burritos, if you know what I mean. It takes quite a bit to conjure up such a visceral reaction in me, so kudos to director Simon Rumley (The Living and the Dead) for pushing all the right buttons.

The movie begins with a bang (or two, or three) of the sexual variety. Erica is the type of woman who looks like she was rode hard and put away wet. She recklessly scours the bars of Austin on a nightly basis and picks up different men that she sleeps with.

To demonstrate the emotional disconnect her character has, she promptly tells a suitor who is going to make her breakfast: “I don’t stay over, I don’t fall in love , and I don’t f*&% the same guy twice.” She’s clearly damaged goods. One night she has a foursome with three guys that are in a band, who come into play later in the movie.

Noah Taylor plays Nate

Erica is strangely drawn to Nate (Noah Taylor of Almost Famous and Life Aquatic) who confesses that he tortured animals when he was young, and had a honorable discharge from the army. Instead of running away, shrieking, Erica strikes up a tenuous friendship with the man.

The story then shifts to one of the band members, Franki (Marc Senter, The Lost.) Franki fuels his dreams of being a rock star by working in a diner, and he takes care of his mother, who is dying of cancer. He is in the process of reconciling with his estranged girlfriend when he gets some bad news that causes a downward spiral of rage and anguish.

All three principal characters’ lives collide in a shocking, raw and gruesome final act. I saw the movie several days ago, and I can’t shake a final visual.

Director Simon Rumley uses music and a deliberate pace to build the tension up, reminiscent of last year’s House of the Devil. Not a whole lot happens for the first two thirds of the film, but the anticipation builds so that by the time the final act comes around, you are on pins and needles.

The film has that grainy look of a 70′s slasher film, although it takes place now. Several Austin hangouts are prominently featured, including Beauty Bar, The Drafthouse, and The Highball. Incidentally, Fantastic Fest coordinator and Drafthouse owner Tim League served as a co-executive director on the film.

A bit more about the score-it is really bizarre but really works well with the movie. If memory serves, it is primarily composed of piano pings and clanging keys followed by short bursts of actual music. It is disorienting, jarring and rattles your nerves, which I am sure was the whole intent. It reminded me a lot of the score from Nekromantik, a film I haven’t seen for well over 15 years, but the score I recall like it was yesterday. I suspect this score will be the same.

I still can’t decide how much I liked the movie, but it certainly struck a nerve with me, and that sort of impression merits praise in the horror genre.


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