Well, after reading various things on the internet about a film called “Blood Simple”, I just had to watch it. After all, it had been likened to a film noir, a dark comedy and even an old horror comic. These are three of my favourite genres 🙂
So, after taking a look online, I found a reasonably cheap second-hand DVD of the film. However, I should probably point out that I got the “ordinary” version of the film, rather than the more recent director’s cut version.
I should probably also warn you that this review will contain some SPOILERS.
So, let’s take a look at “Blood Simple”:
“Blood Simple” is a crime thriller movie from 1984 that was directed by the Coen brothers (and, surprisingly, is the first Coen brothers film I’ve seen).
The film focuses on a sleazy nightclub owner in Texas called Marty who suspects that his wife Abby is having an affair with one of his employees called Ray. After hiring a rather dodgy private investigator to follow them, his suspicions are confirmed.
After a violent confrontation with Abby and Ray, Marty returns to the private investigator and offers him $10,000 to kill both of them. The investigator agrees, but quickly realises that it would be easier to cheat Marty out of the money, shoot him and frame Abby for the murder. It seems like the perfect crime. However, things don’t quite go according to plan….
One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is nervously suspenseful, oppressively intense and nightmarishly bleak (in a good way). It is one of the most complex, atmospheric and well-plotted films I’ve seen in a while. I’ve never seen a film quite like this one.
Although the film has a lean and efficient running time of 95 minutes, the film’s deliberately slow and suspenseful pacing makes it feel considerably longer. This slowness helps to gradually increase the suspense and to give the audience time for the emotional impact of the film’s events to sink in. This is also emphasised by the fact that the film’s dialogue is often peppered with silences and things left unsaid, with almost all of the characters also speaking in a slow Texan drawl.
One of the most distinctive things about this film is how it handles the topic of violence. Unlike a lot of slick thriller movies that trivialise violence, this film takes a grimly realistic approach to violence. Whenever something violent happens, it has painful physical and/or emotional consequences that reverberate throughout the entire film.
This emphasis on the consequences of violence drives many of the events of the film’s complex story (which plays out like an intricately-plotted, but very grim, farce), whilst also giving the film a vividly nightmarish quality that draws the audience firmly into the drama. Although this film has relatively few violent moments, each one has a tremendous emotional impact because of the film’s focus on the consequences.
This is a dark, bleak, shocking film which will probably leave you speechless for a few moments when the credits roll. Yet, it is also a compellingly watchable film. It’s like watching the events of a nightmare unfold slowly. Yes, the film has a few light-hearted moments, but these just serve to make the rest of the film even more bleak by contrast.
Interestingly, for a film that revolves around the consequences of crime and violence, the police are nowhere to be seen. The characters go to great lengths to cover up crimes, and yet there isn’t a single police officer in sight. As well as giving the film a menacingly amoral atmosphere, this lack of police also really helps to crank up the suspense and paranoia too.
The lack of police is also cleverly used to explore and critque American myths about guns and self-defence. One of the central objects in the film is Abby’s small revolver….
This gun is only ever loaded with three bullets. It is too far away to be used in one confrontation (where unarmed self-defence is shown to be more effective). It is later stolen and used to commit a murder. When a central character almost trips over it, it accidentally discharges and narrowly misses him. Another character later tries to use the gun for self-defence, but fails because three chambers are empty. Then it causes Ray and Abby’s relationship to break down.
Then, after all of this misery (and another shockingly horrific scene a while later), the film eventually ends with the pistol actually being used for legitimate self-defence…. Only for the person firing it to realise that they’ve shot a different person to the one they thought they had.
This one little “self-defence” gun is the source of most of the misery, chaos and horror in the film. As an extremely dark piece of satire about gun culture in the US, this film works really well. Like with “Blade Runner“, this is one of those truly mature films that manages to be both extremely violent and extremely anti-violence at the same time.
The film’s bleak, paranoid and nightmarish atmosphere is helped by some absolutely brilliant lighting design and set design. As you would expect from something in the film noir genre, everywhere is often bathed in ominous shadows. But, in a cool 1980s-style touch (which, again, reminded me a little bit of “Blade Runner”), this darkness is sometimes contrasted with some really beautiful neon lighting.
Musically, this film contains a really interesting mixture of ominous music, old pop/disco music and country music. Although it isn’t exactly the type of music that you would traditionally expect to hear in a film noir, it fits in really well with the Texan setting and really helps to add even more atmosphere to the film.
All in all, this is an extremely well-made, intelligent, compelling, unique, mature and atmospheric film. It is also the kind of nightmarishly intense and suspensefully horrific film that will leave you in stunned silence when the credits roll. It has a complex plot, a unique personality and a laser focus on vivid small-scale drama. And, even though this film is over 30 years old, it has aged surprisingly well.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.