Turns into the kind of unpleasant slasher pic most at home in frightfests.

Cult British helmer Simon Rumley follows up sleeper hit “The Living and the Dead” with another psychologically charged experiment in the horror genre. But despite some initially interesting character studies, “Red White & Blue” turns into the kind of unpleasant slasher pic most at home in frightfests. Thanks to Amanda Fuller’s nuanced perf as a nymphomaniac nursing emotional wounds, the first half intriguingly balances the creepy with something deeper, though such niceties later get subsumed by gore. Pic will get plenty of mileage on campuses and ancillary.

Co-exec producer Tim League is co-director of Austin’s Fantastic Fest (which takes an associate producer credit) and, given the kudos Rumley received there for his last film, it’s no surprise he chose to shoot his latest in the Lone Star state’s capital of alternative culture. There’s no disputing Rumley’s helming care in calibrating movement, montage and sound, but neither storyline nor execution feel exceptional.

In short shorts and white cowboy boots, prickly Erica (Fuller) hits skanky bars each night, having sex with different guys and then saying she never gives repeat performances. Nate (Noah Taylor), a new tenant in the same boarding house, takes an interest, but though she’s intrigued by the mysterious stranger with a self-professed history of violence to animals, Erica oddly won’t give him a roll in the hay.

Among her conquests are Franki (Marc Senter) and two of his bandmates. Franki’s got big dreams of rock stardom and, though things aren’t really working out, he maintains a generally positive outlook and affectionately nurses his cancer-patient mom (Sally Jackson). Unfortunately, his one-night stand with Erica leaves Franki with a life-changing problem that drives him to seek revenge, with Nate in pursuit once he discovers Erica is missing.

Gorehounds may be frustrated by the first hour’s slow build-up, though this is where the film works best. Erica’s nasty defensiveness, part power game and part self-humiliation, masks a decent but troubled young woman. Fuller carries off difficult scenes with a vulnerable steeliness: Her perplexed yet needy mien when reluctantly having sex for the second time with Franki is remarkably effective and forms the only truly moving moment in the film. Nate is far more of a cipher.

Influences of helmers like Larry Clark and Wes Craven are pronounced: The first half is pure montage, foregoing slick visuals so the characters’ personalities, coupled with a disturbing stillness, take root. Especially good is the sound design, in which brutal moments go mute, replaced by gentle music.

Red White & Blue

U.K.

Production

A Screen Projex presentation of a Rumleyvision production, in association with Fidelity Films, Fantastic Fest. (International sales: Fidelity, London.) Produced by Bob Portal, Simon Rumley. Executive producers, Adam Goldworm, Doug Abbott, Tim League, Judy Lipsey. Co-producers, Paul Knaus, Simon Markham. Directed, written by Simon Rumley.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Milton Kam; editor, Rob Hall; music, Richard Chester; production designer, Josh Crist; costume designer, Tessa Justman; sound, Martin Pedersen; associate producers, Blake Ethridge, Rae Williams; casting, Karen Hallford, Dominika Posseren. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Spectrum), Jan. 28, 2010. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Noah Taylor, Amanda Fuller, Marc Senter, Nick Ashy Holden, Patrick Crovo, Jon Michael Davis, Sally Jackson.
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