Blood Simple hinges on two things: Its plot, and its characters. Apart from these, it is actually quite dreary. There is nothing interesting about its design. It mostly takes place at night, where details are highlighted by a strong light source. Its music, while chilling, is stuck in ’80s limbo, which means it has a strong tendency to come off as cheesy instead of effective. There is nothing visually inviting about it. But that’s okay when you’ve got a plot, and acting, strong enough to carry the weight.
Abby (Frances McDormand) and Ray (John Getz) are having an affair. We learn this right from the outset. Abby is the wife of Marty (a bar owner in Texas, played by Dan Hedaya), and Ray is one of Marty’s bartenders. Already, there is room for great drama. Abby and Ray spend the night together, not knowing that a private investigator, Loren Visser (played wonderfully by M. Emmet Walsh), is secretly taking pictures of them. He reports back to Marty, who pays him. But Marty isn’t satisfied; he wants the two of them dead. He pays Loren $10,000 to kill them and dispose of the bodies without a trace, while he goes fishing to create an alibi.
This Loren is quite the character. He is sleazy, always sweaty, overweight, and has a knack for laughing like The Joker. He thinks he has come up with the best plan ever, one that will clear his name of all blame and still allow him to walk away with the 10k. This is what he does: He sneaks into Ray’s house while he and Abby are sleeping, steals Abby’s gun from her handbag, fakes their deaths by taking a photograph of them in bed and then doctoring it to make it look bloody and gruesome, and then hands the photograph over to Marty, who is obliged to pay out. But wait, that’s not the end of it. He shoots Marty dead with Abby’s gun, and then chucks the gun aside. He grabs the money and the photographs, and leaves. What a genius.
His plan has two mistakes: 1) He doesn’t know that Marty steals the doctored photograph and replaces it with a toilet hygiene sign, and 2) Marty isn’t actually dead.
What’s great about Blood Simple is how the little details work. It is a case of cause and effect, one thing that leads to another that leads to another. It starts off with a single idea, and then branches off into a web of blunders, paranoia, and cover-ups. Our characters are normal people in a normal world. Their goals are normal. But when the little details come into play, everything goes out the window. For instance, Loren leaves his cigarette lighter in Marty’s office shortly after shooting him. He needs to get it back. He realises that his photograph is missing, so he has to return to the scene of the crime to retrieve it. A lighter and a photograph are not big plot points, nor are they physically big items, yet the importance resting on them is enormous. This is the magic of most of the Coen Brothers’ stories; how they excel in weaving strand after strand of complexity over tiny details and banal openings. It is a formula that has worked for them time and time again, and with each new movie they make, the craziness that befalls their characters becomes more absurd.
Blood Simple, being their first, is not as crazy as, say, Fargo, but it still has the same mayhem. And that is what I like about it. It is cheap, unattractive, but immensely captivating. Its story is the thing that comes through for it, and elevates it from being just a low budget suspense farce to a classic neo-noir thriller that plays like a blueprint for every single Coen movie that has followed.
Best Moment | The hand-stabbing on the windowsill. The actual stabbing isn’t that bad, but when the stabbee pulls the knife out of his hand, it’s pretty realistic. You can almost feel his pain.
Worst Moment | Nope, there isn’t one.