by Dan Moray
When it was shown at the still fledgling Sundance Film Festival in 1985, Blood Simple astounded audiences around the world with its playfully professional yet grisly homage to the noir and horror film genres. Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen ushered in a new era with this hugely successful independent film. Made on a shoestring budget and written, produced, and directed by the Coens, Blood Simple was proof that high-quality, commercially viable feature films could be made outside the corporate film studios.
Set in a nameless Texas town, this quirky drama starts with wide shots of deserted highways, lonely oil pumps, vast prairie and panhandle, its faceless rhythms and empty distances establishing a world far from the moral safety of human society. We soon find ourselves in a car moving down the highway in a torrential downpour that all but blocks any view of the oncoming roadway. Ray (John Getz) and Abby (Frances McDormand) speak nervously to each other in the car about the possibility that Abby's husband, Marty, might catch them. Suddenly they stop the car and realize that a junky VW bug has been following them. We cut to a roadside motel and see them between the sheets as lights from passing cars flash shadows around the little room.
Cut to a desktop with cowboy-booted feet in the middle and a folder of pictures thrown down beside them. "Thought you might like these," gloats the sleazy, devious, uneven voice of Loren Visser, the misanthropic investigator played with white-trash relish by M. Emmet
Walsh. As Marty, Dan Hedaya plays a mean, intensely edgy scorned husband. Though he exudes an intimidating hostility, Marty is incapable of carrying out violence on his own so he's hired Visser to murder the cheating couple. Visser brought the pictures to prove that he kept his part of the deal but after he collects his money, he murders Marty. It turns out that not only is Visser working for someone
else but Ray and Abby aren't even dead. But when they find out Marty is dead, fear exposes their underlying distrust of each other, and their love turns rancid.
The film's quirky suspense is well done, with nervous camera angles and lighting effects, but it seems indulgent at times. The camera may linger too long after a shot, or take too much time in setting up a shot. The plot gets hard to follow in spots. Abby and Ray lack the steamy, intense, blind sexual attraction of Lana Turner and John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice or Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. But it is an entertaining film, fun, with lots of twists and turns, plenty of blood, and even some laughter not to mention great background music.
Blood Simple is shown as part of the Michigan Theater's Sundance Series Thursday and Sunday, August 3 and 6.
[Review published August 2006]