If you watch a lot of horror movies, particularly in the last few years, you have no doubt grown accustomed to the expectation that low budget horror movies are emotionally vacant, supplanting plot and character nuance for needless gore and brutality. It's as though filmmakers working under these confines lack the confidence to deliver a movie that will be talked about for its scripting, its performances, or for the affecting eye of the camera. In turn, they gaze upon the successes of higher profile films (namely those bearing the unfortunate Torture Porn label), think, "I can top that" and then proceed to default between alternating modes of hate, dialog that would make the cast of Deadwood blush, and boundary-pushing violence, the thought process being that if they can't make a film memorable for the characters, they'll make it memorable solely for how much pain they inflict on them.

If you've seen any of the trailers for Red, White & Blue, the new film from The Living and the Dead director Simon Rumley, chances are good you have these expectations. If you do, promptly throw them out the window. Yes, Rumley's gritty-looking film is low budget, but it bears none of the low-budget trappings that destroy films crafted by lesser talents. It is not spiteful; it is not hateful; but it is beautiful in a supremely unnerving, macabre way. Red, White & Blue does not just get under your skin, it flays it from your very bones.

Rumley opens with a candid introduction to Erica (Amanda Fuller), an emotional Bedouin who spends her nights wandering from bar to bar so that she can then wander into and immediately back out of the beds of the countless men taken in by her come hither stare and overt sexuality. And even though, by all measures, she is a morally bankrupt character, little hints and winks at the vulnerable, dying-to-be-loved girl inside her endear the audience towards her situation. Against all instinct we, like her off-kilter neighbor Nate (Noah Taylor), begin to care for a character who clearly does not care what happens to her.

The beauty of it is that when Erica's no-holds-barred behavior with one particular man, Franki (Marc Senter), starts to catch up with her in a bad, bad way, the audience begins rooting for Nate's questionable infatuation with Erica to completely take over and save her self-destructive ways. Then the tragedy of Rumley's script kicks in as the audience starts to learn what all involved are truly capable of. Too much momentum has been built at that point, however, and there's no stopping the haunting beast that's been set in motion.

What makes the film standout all the more is not the fact that moments in it had me literally chewing on whatever was around me as a coping mechanism, but that Rumley does it all with ear-to-ear professionalism, smiling at you while destroying you. He has assembled a cast and crew that really take the task at hand to heart. Everyone involved cares about elevating these roles beyond the typically one-dimensional characters one finds in horror movies of this ilk. Particularly Amanda Fuller and Noah Taylor, two actors who rise to the task of externalizing emotions and thoughts that are entirely internal in nature. The never judgmental camera is their cohort, always ready to capture their swirling feelings whether they're saying anything or not.

And those swirling feelings are what I admire most about Red, White & Blue. Rumley brokers investment in the characters quickly and effortlessly, never asking the viewer to follow along leaps in logic that exist purely for dramatic affect. And it's not just the main leads, either. You begin to care for the side characters who have made poor but not unforgivable decisions that have found them caught up in the tornado that is Nate. You begin to care for so many different elements on the screen that every snuffed-out flame is felt. Every protesting scream and resistant squirm takes on new weight and the collective gravity of everyone's actions eventually drags it all down, leaving you as an observer feeling physically winded in the aftermath of the crash.

Make no mistake about it, Red, White & Blue is a difficult film to watch, but that doesn't mean that it is unrewarding. Finding an independent, low-budget horror movie that knows to imply its brutality over explicitly showing it is like finding rare treasure these days. When it is found, it's a time for celebration. So if Red, White & Blue should ever come your way, take the time to discover it. It may kick your ass when you do, but it does it in such a personal and powerful way that you can't help but smile at it afterward, respecting the grace behind every kick to the chest it delivers.
CATEGORIES Reviews, Horror