This is the most striking aspect about the unflinching horrifics of Joel and Ethan Coen--their ability to separate the audience from the victims, to suppress any instincts towards sympathy and force us to truly objectify certain characters. There was Fargo's Wade Gustafson, the shrewd, miserly father who got blasted in the head in a parking lot, and Miller's Crossing's Rug Daniels, dead in an alley sans toupee. Blood Simple, the Coens' 1984 debut film, uses this device in the iciest manner.
Re-released and re-furbished this week in a special director's cut, Blood Simple swiped the best picture award at 1985's Sundance Film Festival. Set in Texas' perfect, masculine heat, it is the story of Abby (the ever-superb Frances McDormand), who leaves her wealthy louse of a husband (Marty, played by Dan Hedaya) for quietly appreciative Ray (John Getz). Driven by skin-sloughing jealousy, Marty hires a P.I. (grotesque M. Emmet Walsh) to follow Abby and Ray. In true Coen style, Marty's selfish motivations and cruel machismo turn into a stone cold bloodbath. The scenes are raw and convoluted; even the camera seems to sweat. All the characters attempt to outsmart each other against competing events, of which only the audience is aware.
Blood Simple was the seed of the Coens' cold ability to slip inside our heads, detach us from their character-pawns, and throw us into their world of people like litter. It allows us to react along with its characters, primarily to the vertigo in their minds, the trappings of insecurity, and the inability to discover what events are motivating them. It's what the Coens do best, and it never ceases to be chilling.