Ray (John Getz) and Abby (Frances McDormand) are driving home one night when the conversation starts to turn serious and she abruptly gets him to stop the car. There's another car which is forced to halt behind them, but moves on as it becomes clear they are not budging; inside the vehicle the passion is rising and soon they are at a local motel making love. Once they've done that, they fall asleep, woken the following morning by a telephone call from someone they both know: Abby's husband Marty (Dan Hedaya) who is well aware of what they've been up to and isn't happy...
The Coen Brothers' first film was met with a mixed reception, with many citing their inexperience as a reason why they didn't believe the debuting directors were quite up to delivering the accomplishments they had planned. However, knowing what we know now about the path their careers took we can see that far from giving in to a certain amateurism, they hit the ground running, crafting a thriller on a tiny budget which was better than many of the eighties noirs emerging from the major studios at the time. Where they upped the sexual angle for those would-be blockbusters, the Coens preferred to concentrate on a tension-filled plot.
As just about everyone noted, Blood Simple owed plenty to the sort of hardboiled suspense stories of James M. Cain and his ilk, yet they didn't slavishly imitate the style, for as befitting their association with the budding Sam Raimi, the Coens introduced the trappings of horror to their plotting, with setpieces not shy about pouring on the blood and gore. For some, they could trace a line of black comedy running through the behaviour of the characters, most blatantly in the villain, the private detective named, er, Private Detective in the end credits and played by M. Emmet Walsh. He had been a regular heavy in movies since the late sixties, but had built a cult following in that time.
So much so that the Coens would not have anyone else in the role which they had written expressly for him, and sure enough you cannot imagine anyone else carrying off the weaselly, sweaty menace of the bad guy quite as well. It was reasons such as that these filmmakers quickly endeared themselves to movie buffs, especially the new generation of film fans emerging in the eighties and nineties who appreciated the Coens' cineliteracy and way with a genre, and though Blood Simple takes its time in coming to the boil, once it has the main four players in a state of utter confusion to ensure they won't be thinking straight when push comes to shove, it grew relentless.
Marty hires the private eye to spy on his wife to see what she's up to behind his back, and sure enough she has been cheating with the not quite bright enough Ray, who may love her but is willing to go to great lengths to protect her without stopping to consider the consequences or more importantly what precisely is going on. Our sympathies are with Abby because though she is committing adultery we understand Marty is a dangerous, controlling man who will destroy her given the chance, and a chance is what he has when he orders the detective to murder both of them and dispose of the bodies. What's most intriguing about this is that none of those main four is in full possession of the facts, working at cross purposes which places the audience in a privileged position of knowing more than they do, and isn't it satisfying? With excellent acting, stylish camerawork by Barry Sonnenfeld and direction pitched just right, Blood Simple deserved its cult adulation. Music by Coens regular Carter Burwell.
[Studio Canal have re-released the directors' cut, actually a few minutes shorter than the original, on Region 2 DVD. The trailer is the sole extra, so you don't get the infamous commentary track scripted by the Coens to take the mickey out of the whole idea of commentary tracks, which would have been nice to have.]