by Coop Cooper
Rural Noir’ is a category that can include western, horror or Southern Gothic elements, but more accurately, they are dark and gritty crime thrillers based in rural locations, giving them a kind of isolating, ‘country’ feel. Here are ten of my favorites in chronological order…
10. “Deliverance” (1972) – Over forty years later this Oscar winner still packs a punch. Many mistake it for a horror film and while it has become the inspiration for many backwoods horror films to date, it remains a solid and shocking mainstream thriller about four men pursued by bloodthirsty mountain men while rafting on a Georgia river.
9. “Badlands” (1973) – This artfully-scripted Terrence Malick thriller about two teen lovers (Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen) on a killing spree in rural South Dakota was the inspiration for “True Romance” and “Natural Born Killers”, both scripted (but not directed) by Quentin Tarantino.
8. “Blood Simple” (1984) – The title, referring to people losing their sense of rationality and reason in the act of murder, underscores the premise behind this Texas thriller by the Coen Brothers in which a jealous husband hires a hit man to kill his cheating wife and her lover, and chaos ensues when things don’t go according to plan.
7. “At Close Range” (1986) – This heartbreaking and mean-spirited true crime story about a murderous rural crime boss (Christopher Walken) who brings his two sons (Sean and Chris Penn) into the family business is hard to watch due to the sickening levels of betrayal inflicted on Sean Penn’s character. It’s possibly the most underrated movie on the list, but is more famous for featuring one of Madonna’s most haunting songs, “Live to Tell”.
6. “Wild at Heart” (1990) – Easily the weirdest addition to the list, this David Lynch film has ex-con Sailor (Nicholas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) on the run from weirdo hitmen hired by Lula’s evil mother (Diane Ladd). This all-star cast features Lynch’s trademark dark humor and strangeness with noir atmosphere and a twisted plot inspired by the ‘Wizard of Oz’.
5. “The Devil’s Rejects” (2005) – This ‘road-killers’ film squarely falls into the ‘horror’ category but contains all of the elements of a rural noir story. Captain Spaulding, Baby and Otis (killers from the first film “House of 1000 Corpses”) go on the run when their house is besieged by police and are pursued cross country by a vengeful lawman (William Forsythe) who has been driven insane by the Rejects’ murder of his brother. This Rob Zombie shocker with a 70’s rock soundtrack is not for the squeamish but is far superior to any movie he has made before or since.
4. “The Killer Inside Me” (2010) – This brutal film (based on a Jim Thompson novel) is about a soft-spoken, small town Texas sheriff (Casey Affleck) who is secretly a murderer and begins to crack and show his true colors over the course of the story. This film became infamous when Affleck walked out of the premiere and vowed never to watch it again after his own performance disturbed him. It’s a misunderstood and unfairly maligned movie that deserves an audience… preferably one with a strong stomach for violence.
3. “No Country for Old Men” (2007) – This film, another from the Coen Brothers, might be the best of the list. While the story about a cowboy who goes on the run after finding a suitcase full of money is a compelling one, it was Javier Bardem’s Oscar-winning performance as the villainous ‘Bogeyman’ killer Anton Chigurh that made the film unforgettable.
2. “Winter’s Bone” (2010) – The film that gave an up-and-coming Jennifer Lawrence her first Oscar nomination, Lawrence plays a dirt-poor 17 year-old family caretaker who must track down and turn in her drug-addicted hillbilly father before bail bondsmen take her trailer and leave her family homeless. To do so, she must traverse the dangerous world of backwoods drug-smugglers with the aid of her violent, criminal uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes, also in an Oscar-nominated performance).
1. “Cold in July” (2014) – Since I reviewed this film last week, my infatuation with it inspired this list. I think at the very least this story about a family man who kills a home intruder only to have the incident uncover an insidious ‘murder-for-entertainment ring’ will become a cult classic of the genre.