Published Oct 25, 2019During the third act of Black and Blue, the audience applauded many times — it seemed the only way to expel the tension everyone's nerves were put under. Indeed, Black and Blue is a tightly wound thriller, as director Deon Taylor employs cinematographically Hitchcockian suspense-building techniques that push the film into horrific territory.
Black and Blue is a horror film.
Naomie Harris stars as Alicia West, a rookie police officer in New Orleans, and Tyrese Gibson as Milo Jackson, brother of a friend from West's past. When West captures footage of corrupt cops executing a young drug dealer on her body cam, the cops want the footage destroyed, while the drug dealer's uncle, played by Mike Colter, who cuts a terrifying figure as Darius, thinks West committed the murder and wants her dead. Jackson is the only one willing to help West publicize the truth.
Harris's performance is reminiscent of Angelina Jolie in By the Sea. (Stay with me here.) Jolie, whom we're accustomed to seeing screaming in many of her roles, in By the Sea is quiet and simmering, delicate and pensive. West is similarly restrained, and on her, the quiet is interesting. West used to be in the army; she now looks tired, keeps her voice low as others yell. She slips swiftly to action — to shooting a gun, to gluing up a wound — almost through body memory. That is, out of necessity, instinctively. This is not to say West is resigned to her fate. She sees people as people, and does not believe any one person has the right to decide when another should die — a belief she espoused in Kandahar.
There is one scene wherein West screams — when Jackson's life is endangered. But her scream is muffled by the film's heavy score, which crawls under the skin, à la Psycho. It's a looming and creeping score that unsettles and terrorizes, and Harris's quiet amplifies it, making it more sinister.
Then there's the claustrophobia-inducing way the camera hinges onto faces. While characters look for each other, hide from each other or menacingly saunter, the camera follows their faces closely, creating in the viewer a feeling of being trapped. A warehouse where the corrupt cops stalk West is huge, but we would never know it from the way the lens closes in on Harris.
Black and Blue is a horror picture that's cinematographically and metaphorically rich, a scary film with all too human horrors.