Title: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
Director: Simon Hawkins, Zeke Hawkins
Major Players: Mackenzie Davis, Mark Pellegrino, Jeremy Allen White
Out Of Five? 3.5
Working for the Texas Tourism Board can’t be any fun right now. The recent spate of noir thrillers set in the Lone Star state make it look like one of the world’s crime hot spots. Both Blue Ruin and Cold In July were set there and We Gotta Get Out Of This Place from the Hawkins brothers completes the accidental trilogy.
All three owe more than a little something to the film that inspired a revival of the genre, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Blood Simple. Remember the strapline? “Dead in the heart of Texas.” And here we go again, with another pair of brothers at the helm, but the difference here is that there are three teenagers at the heart of the story.
Two of them, Sue (Mackenzie Davis) and Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) are about to get out of the small cotton town and go to college. The third, B J (Logan Huffman) didn’t get the grades so he’s stuck there, but he’s determined that his girlfriend and his best buddy should have a good time before they go away. So he raids the safe at work to pay for it. Inevitably, his boss, the sociopath Giff (Mark Pellegrino) isn’t best pleased, beating up the man he thinks is responsible, the security guard. To save the man’s life, Bobby confesses to the theft – and then discovers that the money didn’t actually belong to Giff. It’s the start of a downward spiral involving murder, kidnap and betrayal.
So, exactly thirty years after the arrival of Blood Simple, is We Gotta Get Out Of This Place going to create the same waves? Probably not, mainly because of its predecessors this year, but it does mark the arrival of some new and interesting film makers. True, they’ve taken the familiar territory of the seedy criminal underbelly of a flat and barren Texas, but given it an interesting twist with the teenagers and they’ve added a memorable and seriously nasty villain in Giff. He doesn’t have a single redeeming feature, never giving a second thought to manipulating people in his deeply sinister games. There’s a section of the film where he keeps a low profile – and we miss him.
He is, despite one the themes running through the film, exactly what he seems. But, as Sue, easily the most academic of the three points out, there are 32 different ways of telling a story, but only one plot. Nothing is ever what it seems. The phrase crops up regularly, encouraging us to hold on to that thought, although it’s an idea that’s never totally fulfilled. But, surprisingly, that frees up the film to twist and turn sharply and to allow the Hawkins brothers to keep a couple of secrets up their sleeves, which they only reveal when they’re good and ready.
You can’t blame Sue and Bobby for wanting to get out of their hometown. There’s nothing for them there and it’s reflected in the camera work with its grainy, grimy texture, subdued interiors shot in near-natural light and flat, monotonous scenery, punctuated by the occasional building. In fact, it doesn’t really seem to be a town at all, and none of the teenagers seem to have much in the way of a family or home life. Bobby lives in a house with what appears to be his aunt, B J shares his bedroom with a youngster who we assume is a relative and Sue has a room of her own, but we never see anybody else from the house. Which is why they get mixed up with a thug like Giff to pay for their escape.
The three young actors, pretty much unknowns, more than hold their own among experienced company. There are times when, harking back to “nothing is ever what it seems”, you wonder if Sue will be the only survivor: Mackenzie Davis makes it very apparent that she has the determination and just a chip or two of ice in her blood. And, in the same way, Jeremy Allen White’s Bobby isn’t quite as naïve as he appears, while B J comes closest to being what you see on screen – impulsive to the point of reckless, cowardly but with a sadistic streak.
Of this year’s Texas noirs, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place is the best so far. Avoiding the gory gothic of Blue Ruin and over-complicated plotting of Cold In July, it treads a grittier path with just the right amount of surprises to keep you interested – and a truly mesmerising villain. And there’s no sound of The Animals!
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place is released on Friday, 15 August.