Now out on DVD and Netflix Instant, writer/director Simon Rumley’s Red White & Blue (which I recommend to more open-minded viewers) tells the tragic story of three disparate Austin, Texas residents whose paths eventually collide in a shocking explosion of savage violence. I recently chatted with stars Amanda Fuller and Marc Senter – playing a soul-broken nymphomaniac and an aspiring rock star, respectively – whose one night of passion early in the film sets off a horrific chain reaction of murder and mayhem. The two gave insight into the making of the film, executive-produced by Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League, as well as working with co-star Noah Taylor (The Proposition), who plays a mysterious blue-collar worker concealing a dark inner nature. See inside for the full interview.There are thousands and thousands of movies just like Red White & Blue; allow me to run down the checklist for you. Made for very little money by a dedicated cast and crew? Check. Blessed with a major festival run? Check. Acquired by a respected indie distributor? Check. More or less lost in a marketplace glutted with big-studio movies and higher-profile independent films? Check.
There’s no doubt: it’s a tough market out there for indie filmmakers. But while many (if not most) of their films don’t exactly merit the attention anyway, it’s too bad when a truly worthy independent offering fails to receive the attention it deserves. Red White & Blue falls into the latter category.
Helmed by The Living and the Dead director Simon Rumley (a film that won the Jury Prize at Austin’s Fantastic Fest in 2006), Red White & Blue is a quiet story of random connection between three lost souls (or rather, two lost and one on the bubble) that eventually builds to a third-act crescendo of shocking violence. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s certainly a good film, and it racked up a few impressive reviews by such distinguished outlets as the New York Times, Variety, and the San Francisco Chronicle during its limited theatrical run.
In a rather belated recent interview – given that it occurred a full two weeks after the film’s DVD release (you can also catch it on Netflix Instant) – I chatted over the phone with two of the film’s stars, Amanda Fuller and Marc Senter, who play two young Austin-ites (the film was produced by Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League, who also offered up his Austin home as production headquarters during shooting) whose fateful one-night stand, shot in a dreamy opening montage, becomes the catalyst for the film’s staggeringly violent final half-hour.
“I was like, ‘this could…be complete and utter disgusting shit if it’s not done by the right people“, said Fuller, a moon-faced young woman who gives an uncomfortably raw and unforgettable performance as the promiscuous Erica, about first reading the script. “I had had experiences of meeting with people with similar kinds of scripts and turned them down because I was like, ‘I don’t believe that this is gonna be quality work, and it’s not gonna have the integrity that I want to have in the work that I do.’”
Outside of the story’s grislier aspects, Fuller nevertheless liked the screenplay enough to meet with Rumley, who flew out to Los Angeles to sit down with her and discuss what he envisioned for the film. The night before the meeting, she settled in to watch The Living and the Dead.
“When I saw [it] I was like, ‘Ok, I’m sold. If I meet with this guy and we’re on the same page with things, I wanna do this movie’“, she recalled. “[It] was shot so beautifully, and also I found out that Milton Kam, the D.P. of ‘The Living and the Dead’, was also shooting this. So I knew it was gonna be a great film, if we had all of the right puzzle pieces there.”
Senter, no stranger to horror given his starring or co-starring roles in several recent genre films including The Lost, Wicked Lake, and Cabin Fever 2,stars as Franki, a young, ambitious Austin musician who must juggle his aspirations of rock stardom with caring for his cancer-stricken mother. Already walking a razor’s edge of emotional instability, he is tipped over the edge after a late-second act revelation that’s tied to him and Erica’s aforementioned night of alcohol-fueled passion. This results in Franki tracking Erica down and…well, things get pretty ugly from there on out.
“I saw him as a good guy who just fell victim to some really unfortunate circumstances, and who then had an extreme reaction that truthfully I could see anyone having“, said Senter of his character. “Of course it’s horrific, and it’s terrible, but in some ways I understand exactly how he would react that way. It’s like his entire world has been pulled out from under him and he’s dropped on his head, and that to me was just like, ‘Man, can you imagine if YOU were in that situation? How the hell would YOU react?’”
It’s that undeniable thread of relatability, running parallel to a slowly-mounting atmosphere of intangible dread, that makes Red White & Blue a truly queasy viewing experience. Indeed, the real horror of the film lies in the believable motivations underpinning the eventual brutality – the worst of which is perpetrated by Nate, the third piece in the film’s character puzzle, who is played by veteran Aussie actor Noah Taylor (previous darker-hued efforts by the thesp include Tom Cruise-starrer Vanilla Sky and the brutal and excellent Australian Western The Proposition).
As a mysterious blue-collar worker who forms a deep platonic relationship with Erica and ultimately offers her a job working at his warehouse, Taylor shades his unbalanced (and most likely sociopathic) character with subtle layers that makes his connection with the damaged young woman feel alternately disturbing (in one disquieting exchange he admits to torturing animals as a child) and heartbreaking (a simple affectionate gesture as the two lie together in his bed one night is loaded with inexpressible sadness). Needless to say, in the end Nate’s darker urges win out and we learn just how monstrous he’s capable of being; which is to say, very. It’s a horrifying turnaround that wouldn’t have worked had the stunningly-good Taylor not so effectively hinted at Nate’s capacity for violence from the very beginning.
When I asked Fuller and Senter what it had been like to work with the esteemed character actor, Senter recalled shooting a particularly disturbing scene that takes place between Franki and Nate.
“It was great because we’d be so into it, and then the second Simon would yell ‘cut!’, him and I would just kinda be looking at each other, like, ‘Are you cool?’ ‘Are you cool?’” he recounted. “That’s the one thing about Noah that I really dug, is he was able to kind of turn it on, be there, and then just like turn off real quick and kind of check in with you. Which was really nice, especially with such intense scenes like this.”
Given Fuller’s similarly down-to-the-bone performance (there are times during the film that I could hardly bear to look at the horribly-wounded Erica any longer, which I assure you is a compliment), the actress similarly had to compartmentalize during and after the shoot.
“I think Meryl Streep said it best at one point, which was ‘when you cross a bridge to play someone…at the end of the day you have to walk back over and come back to your own life’“, she remarked. “[But] she still lives within me. And when I see pieces of the film, that’s what brings me back the most. Like when we were doing the film festival circuit we’d watch certain pieces of it, and…I’m cutting a reel together so I’m looking at it again, and that’s when it’s like, I’m there again, and it’s definitely very intense and hard to watch. But other than that, you know, you just have to let it go.”
Easier said than done, perhaps; even as a viewer, Red White & Blue was a tough one to shake. I’d encourage adventurous viewers to check it out.
You can catch “Red White & Blue” on DVD and Netflix Instant now.