Coen Brother’s Blood Simple Broken Down into Classic Neo-Noir Elements (2023)

As an incredibly complex genre, Neo-Noir films introduce specific and key elements in which set them apart from being deemed as a broad film base. More often then not, this genre consists of a few other genres such as mystery, thriller, action, drama, horror, and romance. Although this list seems extensive elements that deal with lighting, camera angles, story structure, and character development set a Noir or Neo-Noir film apart in classification.

In the discussion, Joel and Ethan Coen’s early film, Blood Simple portrays the specific traits of a classic noir film with modernized and personalized touches to make it a Neo-Noir. This film is about a woman, Abby, who leaves her obsessive husband, Marty, for her marriage counselor, Ray. After Abby and Marty begin their life together, Marty hires a hitman to get rid of the situation, and within this series of unfortunate events, accusations are made and those beloved are murdered. Abby must step in the end in order to save herself and avenge those who have been wronged because of the choices she made.

Common Neo-Noir Elements Touched Upon in Blood Simple:

Chiaroscuro Lighting:

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Within the classic Noir, there is typically high contrast lighting pulled out of black and white Film. The above examples from Blood Simple signify the Neo-Noir aspect of the film, with high-contrast lighting, but with film in color. The Coen Brothers were still able to create the deep shadows, raw and intimate emotion, and silhouette of action that the classic noir films are known for, for doing. In these examples above, the mood is clearly set by pulling your attention into what’s really going on in the scene with Abby searching for the bad feeling in her gut in her surroundings, and having Visser be that Ominous presence.

  • Bars, Diagonals, and Frames Within Frames:
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Going off of high-contrast lighting, it was also common to create frames within frames to accentuate the scene most commonly through railings, blinds, or doorways. In Blood Simple, although it was used numerous times, the blinds inside Ray’s home created a certain looming aesthetic that constantly kept you on your toes — which implies the same effect it was used for in Noir.

  • Night Settings:
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It is a common trait among Noir and Neo-Noir films to typically take place during the night time and within an urban setting. Seeing as though about 85% of Blood Simple is shot during night hours, it walks along the lines of a traditional Noir pretty well. On the Contrary, most of the locations, is the bar, Ray’s house, Abby’s Apartment, Marty and Abby’s house, and the country highway were placed relatively in the middle of nowhere, the suburbs, or within quiet and secluded parts of the city — which leads the Coen Brothers down a side next to Noir when creating this film.

  • Dutch Angles and Inverted Frames:

Film Noir traditionally has pretty obscure camera angles and although most in Blood Simple isn’t qualified as Dutch angles, there are still quite a few in which force the viewer into an uncomfortable and new perspective. For example, this shot above pulls the focus onto the fan on the ceiling which is placed right in the center of Marty’s head, which allows the viewer to feel as if they are sitting right on the floor behind him, watching that same fan from a lower perspective than he — which creates a sort of uneasiness knowing Marty’s character choices.

  • Tracking Shots/Long Takes:
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Tracking shots are also a way to create and add suspense to the situation in any genre. With primarily a thriller/mystery/horror based story with violence and crime, Noir’s are especially known for using this key element. They are used several times in Blood Simple in which ties this Neo-Noir to the traditional Noir. For example, when Visser first breaks into Ray’s house and takes Abby’s gun from her purse, he leaves through the front door to go around the house, to arrive at the window of Ray’s bedroom. The camera follows his point of view the entire way until the flash of his camera. The example above portrays a short, but impactful tracking shot. While on the journey of getting rid of Marty’s body, Ray parks his car out into a recently tilled field. With the camera starting on his car, it slowly pulls away to reveal the land, and soon, Ray burying Marty alive. The Coen brothers perfectly used this noir technique to lengthen and heighten the suspense of this story to keep their audience on edge, throughout the entire film.

  • Crime and Violence:
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The Coen’s use of violence and crime perfectly coincides with traditional Noir. It’s used frequently, it’s big, it’s messy, it’s shocking, and it’s effective in telling such a complex story in an entertaining medium. With each violent or criminal action in Blood Simple, it creates a significant beat or prolonged suspense — in the state of shock due to the events that just occurred and wondering/hoping if they will make it out of the situation alive.

  • Cynical and World-Weary Character or Protagonist:
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A common trend in Noir is to have our protagonist have a relatively shady past or obvious flaws that make him/her interesting, untrustworthy, and add to the complexity of the story. Technically stating, Abby is the protagonist of this story, but each character introduced within this film has a particularly deceitful presence to them, mostly through present events. Abby is cheating on her husband with Ray. Ray is having an affair with Abby who is Marty’s wife, as well as a client. Marty has been abusive possessive over Abby and hires a hitman to kill off Ray. And Visser is a detective who kills Marty and Ray and starts the rolling ball of accusations to ultimately get his share of money and freedom in the end. Therefore, the Coen Brothers went above and beyond with character and story development to create a more intricate story structure driven by their characters.

  • Femme Fatale:
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Commonly, Noir’s have a Femme Fatale, who is primarily manipulative, deceiving, seductive, and up to no good (they also usually know how to use a gun pretty well.) Within this context, these lovely women are looked at as the bad guy of the story, in the end. In Blood Simple, though, this character trait is not quite the case. Although Abby is difficult to trust after beginning the movie with her having an affair with her marriage counselor, she still has a sense of innocence to her, in which she has no intention of really hurting anyone, she just wants to be happy. The irony of this though is that she is the reason that Ray, Marty, and Visser are killed in the end, the last is by her own hand. The Coen Brothers set Abby up to be a genuine person within the structure of a Femme Fatale because although she never uses her own gun until the end of the movie, she has still caused several men to die due to her specific actions, even if they were unintended.

  • False Accusations and Betrayal:
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As clear as it can be in a Noir or Neo-Noir, the accusations and constant betrayal in Blood Simple follow the guidelines to traditional Noir seamlessly. Within the first five minutes of the film, betrayal begins as the constant theme, primarily towards Marty, who is deemed to be the darkest character in the film until Visser shows himself at the end. First Abby cheats on Marty, Ray disregards Marty’s wishes and ends up burying him alive, and Visser shoots him square in the chest. Then the accusations begin when Ray tries to dispose of Marty because he thought Abby had killed him. Following that, after Marty leaves a voicemail on Meurice’s answering machine, Ray is accused of the money Marty gave to Visser, Abby believes Ray hurt/killed Marty, and all the while Visser isn’t suspected. The irony of this situation is that all the while Marty was being betrayed, he was trying to make things better with Abby, he essentially gave the gun back to Ray in order for it to come in handy later, and then, before Visser shows up, Marty appears in a dream to warn Abby that Visser is coming and that he will hurt her.

  • Eroticism and Sexuality:
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Although most Noir films are ignited with seduction and manipulation, Blood Simple follows a different route by driving the story with genuine love and sacrifice. With Abby and Ray confessing their feelings towards one another, the movie begins with an intimate sex scene, but as the story goes on, the romantic encounters between the two consist of an embrace. This element creates a sort of hope for the couple to make it through the rest of the film together after the decisions made, such as Ray getting rid of Marty’s body believing it was by Abby’s doing, and Abby moving out of her and Marty’s house and getting her own place, in order to start her life with Ray.

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