Monday, November 7, 2016

Red, White, and Blue

Red, White, and Blue z (2010) is an ornately directed, pretentious horror film.  Made by the British director, Simon Rumley, the picture is so grim as to suggest genuine tragedy until it veers into a contrived and derivative climax involving gory revenge.  Rumley has studied the films of Robert Bresson and, often, invokes that director's austere and elliptical style.  Until the horror film climax, almost no sequences are shown to their natural completion -- an action or event is suggested and, then, the film cuts away to a different scene.  The picture involves two parallel plots that converge at the end and that initially seem to have next to nothing in common -- the way that the stories intersect is fairly interesting and there are many clever elements in the way that the picture is constructed.  Crucial events of plot significance are entirely elided (or suggested by a single enigmatic image) and Rumley implies action by big close-ups of hands seizing items or feet walking in one direction or another.  The characters in the film strongly suggest antecedents in Bresson movies:  there are disaffected, if beautiful-looking youth, who comprise a punk rock band -- this element of the movie looks like Bresson's The Devil Probably; the doomed and sullen heroine is given a backstory sufficient to her self-destructive behavior and resembles the young woman featured in the French film maker's Mouchette.  The film's editing is intentionally problematic -- there are no establishing shots; encounters end before they are dramatically consummated in any way and the wayward figures that Rumley features in the film lead fragmented existences similar to the cubist approach used to represent them.

All of this highly stylish film technique is in service of a banal, if complex, triple revenge plot.  A sexually abused young woman, infected with HIV, goes about having intercourse with as many men as possible -- she insists that the men not use condoms and it is clear that her intention is inflict as much disease on the male population of the city of Austin (Texas) as possible.  This is revenge for being sexually abused as a child.  She refuses to have sex with anyone that she regards as a friend, thus repelling a gaunt and disturbed young man said to have served in Iraq -- he wants to be emotionally involved with her, acts as her benefactor, but is obviously half- or wholly crazy.  (He claims the CIA has offered him a job, presumably as some kind of covert torturer.)  The young woman has sex with two members of a rock and roll band, thereby infecting them with HIV.  The lead singer in the band is close to his mother who is dying of cancer and he has been donating blood for his mother's treatment.   Presumably, the bad HIV-infected blood kills the rock and roller's mother.  He figures out what has happened and, with his band mates, hunts down the girl.  The rock and roller tortures the girl to death and, then, cuts up her body into several parts.  Each of the members of the band gets a part to hide or destroy.  (This seems singularly crazy and counter-productive.)  The crazy wannabe CIA operative finds out that his standoffish girlfriend has been tortured to death and, then, quartered.  This upsets him and he hunts down the band members and their girl friends and members of their families as well and tortures them all to death.  The ex-soldier flees Austin and ends up in Big Bend National Park -- there are several nice shots of the landscape -- where he turns down a telephone offer made by the CIA to join the service.  The film is pretty much a cheat in many ways -- for instance, the director cuts like Bresson, implying a fight by showing two men shouting, approaching one another, and, then, perhaps cutting to a bottle falling on the floor and breaking.  But when it comes to gory torture and murder scenes, he aims the camera right at the action and films everything down to the last detail.  The film is certainly depressing, shot in a sort of haze of misery and squalor -- its makes Austin, Texas look a little like wretched Xenia, Ohio in Harmony Korinne's Gummo:  that is, weedy vacant lots, rotting crack houses, half-subterranean rock and roll clubs, dumpsters, and debris everywhere.  It's fairly clever, adequately (if woodenly) acted -- also I think  a hommage to Bresson -- and too remorselessly nasty to be any fun.  

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