Examination of Blood Simple

In one of my film classes for a final paper, we had write a paper on 1 of the films we saw in class. Me, and i think a few other people(can’t exactly remember) decided to do Blood Simple. I’ve had it saved on my laptop, and i’ve thought about posting it but i didn’t have any followers that i thought would find it interesting. But recently i was informed that i don’t post new content often enough, and i have more followers now i have decided to post it while i do further work on my vampire post. Because it was for class, it is rather long but hopefully it won’t be too much of a problem for people. Also, because i had to tak about specific scenes, this has major spoilers so if you plan to see it anytime soon you might want to skip this until after you watch it.

Blood Simple creates a mood of shock and dread for the audience for both the audience and the characters. This is achieved through a combination of specific film elements. Blood Simple has careful use of lighting, and most importantly shadow. Blood Simple at various points uses a pattern of point of view shots and closeups, usually during high tension scenes. This gets us into the heads of the characters during their times of personal anxiety. Blood Simple uses a mix of diegetic and non-diegetic sound to work together with the visuals to communicate an eerie mood. Blood Simple at various points breaks an established pattern to shock and surprise the audience.

The main way the movie communicates an eerie mood is through use of shadow. When Ray drives out to bury Marty’s body, it’s at night. Even though Rays face is lit well when he is dragging Marty’s corpse, it is surrounded by pitch black. When Marty’s body is put into the hole and Ray starts shoveling the dirt onto it, Rays face is in shadow. Just like ray is starting to feel the emotional weight of what he is about to do, visually to the audience it seems like he is being overwhelmed by darkness. As Ray gets closer to the action of burying Marty’s body, the change in lighting visually communicates him going over to the dark side. In the shots focused on martys body, even though he is partially in shadow, the shadows on him aren’t very dark.

For most of the movie’s darker scenes, there is always careful use of shadows. When Marty brings up killing Abbey and Ray in the car with Visser, both Marty and Visser are partially in shadow. When Visser delivers the photos, they are in shadow again. When Ray goes to Marty to get 2 weeks of pay, Rays face is partially in shadow. Martys face is also partially in shadow. The use of shadows to complement darker scenes visually communicates an eerie mood. This creates a pattern where we expect dark visuals to go along with dark scenes, and most importantly if there isn’t much shadow in a scene we don’t expect anything dark or shocking. This is used to shock the audience when Marty grabs Abbey in Ray’s house. The scene is very well lit, and Marty grabs Abby very quickly with no warning to the audience, causing his actions to feel like they came out of nowhere. The audience is just as surprised as Abby when Marty grabs her. Because Blood Simple has conditioned us to associate dark visuals with dark actions, we think since this scene is rather bright there isn’t going to be anything violent or eerie in this scene. Blood Simple breaks from its pattern on purpose to shock the audience, and to communicate Abby’s surprise to the audience.

Another instance of Blood Simple breaking its pattern of shadows for dark scenes is when Ray calls Abby after burying Marty. It’s not as brightly lit a when Marty grabs Abby, but it isn’t dark either. This communicates to the audience that even though he managed to bury Marty without getting caught, he is haunted by what he did. The next scene where Ray and Abby interact, it is light brighter. Ray by this time seems to have come to terms with what he did, or at the very least isn’t letting it trouble him as much. In this scene the lighting communicates Rays increasing comfortableness with what he did.
When Ray first finds Martys body, it is well lit. Because the audience is used to dark content going along with dark visuals, this makes the scene stand out as odd. This lighting also makes Martys body stands out more. Ray is also surprised when he sees the body. Through breaking an established pattern, the audience and Ray are both surprised.

When Meurice tells Ray about Martys voice message, it’s outside on a sunny day. By this time, Ray is just trying to keep from getting caught. Blood Simple completely departs from its usual pattern of dark visuals with dark subject matter to communicate Ray’s new state of mind.

Blood Simple also alternates between point of view shots and closeups many times. This allows us to really get into the characters head through showing the audience both what the character is seeing through their perspective and the characters reaction. When Ray first discovers Marty’s body, as he is approaching the body the movie switches between closeups of Ray and P.O.V shots of him looking at Marty’s body. Through the combination of closeups and P.O.V shots, the audience knows exactly what Ray is feeling and why. And when Marty goes to see Visser, we get point of pint of view shots of him looking around. While this is not a particularly high anxiety moment unlike when Ray found Martys body, this does communicate to the audience that Marty is looking around as he gets to Visser.

Because we get different perspectives from different characters than just one character throughout Blood Simple, the question of who the main character is becomes a bit ambiguous. No one in the movie stands out as particularly innocent. Abby is cheating on Marty with Ray, Marty is implied to be kind of a bad husband, and Visser is simply trying to make as much money as he can. Because of this with the combination of closeups and point of view shots, it can be hard to tell who the protagonist is.

All the characters seem equally flawed, and all get redeemed in some way. Marty is killed by Visser even though he keeps his part of the deal. Ray shows that he really does care about Abby when he buries Marty. The only character who doesn’t get true redemption is Visser. Abby is left as the only choice as the protagonist since the other three end up dying.

Near the end, we get a point of view shot of Visser looking through the gun scope at Ray. This makes the audience scared for Ray since this shot confirms that Visser is ready to shoot him. The point of view shot technique is utilized here to visually communicate that Ray is in danger, heightening the tension. A bit later, when Visser comes looking for Abby, the film switches between shots of him looking for her and point of view shots from Visser’s perspective. This is another example of point of view shots being used to raise tension.

Another pattern the film exhibits is the ironic use of “It’s the Same Old song” by the Four Tops. When Ray first finds Marty’s body “It the Same Old Song” is playing. The happy tone of the song totally contradicts what is happening on screen, creating an unsettling feeling for the audience. This is used again near the end, where the song plays when after Abbey shoots Visser. Again, there is a contradiction of sound and visuals. This contradiction adds an extra sense of shock for the audience.

The only time the movie really breaks this pattern is when Meurice plays while he is talking to the blond in the bar. In this scene, there isn’t really anything too dark happening. It is mildly uncomfortable when Marty starts hitting on Debra, but it’s not being associated with violence or death. This is the only time when a break in pattern isn’t used to shock the audience.

Blood Simple doesn’t have a lot of non-diegetic sound. This makes the few cases where it does have music not from the environment stand out even more. Near the end dramatic music plays when Abby is about to shoot Visser. Because there’s not a lot of non-diegetic music, this is made even more powerful. One other case of non-diegetic music comes after Ray buries Marty. The small bit of music makes the scene even more eerie and suspenseful for the audience.

Blood simple uses mostly diegetic sound to build tension. When Ray drives to find a place to bury Marty, there is talk of the anti-Christ heard on the radio. Because we know what Ray is going to do, the talk of the antichrist ends up enhancing the eerie mood. The radio chatter fits perfectly with the morally ambiguous action Ray is about to take.

When Ray is burying Marty, all the audience hears is ray shoveling. This makes it seem more realistic, making the scene even more chilling. When Ray and Abby are packing, eerie music plays. Even though there isn’t much shadow during this part, the music makes it spooky. Through the use of these techniques, Blood Simple maintains a mood of dread and shock. Through careful use of lighting, sound, choice of shots, and continuation and breaks in pattern Blood Simple communicates the anxiety of the characters to the audience.

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17 Responses to Examination of Blood Simple

  1. rtm says:

    I keep getting this mixed up with A Simple Plan w/ Bill Paxton, but that one is not from the Coens. I actually haven’t seen this one, Julian, so I don’t really have anything to add.

  2. Joel Burman says:

    They (the Cohens) actually did some Star Wars tweaking a la George Lucas in the re release DVD of it. Which version did you see? It was ages since I saw it but I doubt I’ll see it ever again. There is actually an asian remake of it that was recently released.

    • I think it was the directors cut. I remember it had “Same old song” in it, and from what i read on wikipedia that was only on the directors cut.

      And i also saw the remake

  3. Tyler says:

    Blood Simple is a film that still shocks and chills me to this day, especially the burying alive sequence. A film that would take the Coens six years to better when they made its counterpart Miller’s Crossing.

  4. DEZMOND says:

    Must admit I’ve never heard of this one, is it a horror classic?

    • I’m not sure i would consider it a “horror”(It has moments that could be scary to some but i think its more high-tension thriller than a horror movie) but it is considered a classic

  5. CMrok93 says:

    It’s considered as a horror film, a dark comedy, but altogether just an amazing thriller that builds up the suspense with just about every scene. Good Review and Analysis!

  6. Novroz says:

    The moment I finish reading this great review…I knew I have never seen it…I thought I might have seen it but forgot the title…but I was wrong, I have never heard nor seen it.

    Glad I am not the only one 😉

  7. Ted S. says:

    That’s a good write up Julian, Blood Simple is one of my top 5 Coen Bros. films. I need to see it again soon, haven’t seen it in a while.

  8. Tiff V. says:

    Hello, I am also writing a final paper on Blood Simple. I’m wondering if (in your research) you found any information on filming techniques, especially the part when Abby discovers the “break in” in Marty’s office and the visual effect makes it look like she is falling from the office into her bed.

    • The specific incident you’re referring to isn’t ringing a bell, but my memory of the movie is a bit hazy as i wrote this a while ago. All the film techniques i found are touched upon in the post

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