On a hot August evening, the walls of Beck’s childhood home were covered in blood. The gruesome scene bore traces of the shocking carnage that struck five friends, who had been halved, gutted and dismembered by a nefarious intruder. Luckily, the blood was fake and the friends were characters in a new movie that collaborative duo Beck + Col had just finished shooting. Title red night (2023), the movie weaves influences from horror cinema, pop culture and political theory into a spooky parable soaked in blood and guts about the importance of communal solidarity.
The plot revolves around five freaks who live happily together in a typical suburban home, where their family-style studio portraits, photographed by Elizabeth Preger, hang on the living room wall. When one of the monsters returns from a solo outing, it unwittingly brings back a malevolent force that dispatches the creatures one by one. The film culminates in that quintessential symbol of American suburbia, the backyard swimming pool, dyed red.
The couple shot the film in the same house where Beck grew up and where they now live with several cats, just north of Los Angeles. Influenced by the stylized Italian films of Giallo by Dario Argento and Mario Bava, they painted each of the five pieces a distinct color: yellow, orange, light blue, dark blue and peach. Each monster’s costume is painstakingly constructed from layers of organza, tile, rhinestones and silicone. Although there are only five monsters, Beck+Col had to create 20 costumes since the characters change color each time they enter a different room. (They cite Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” video as a specific reference.)
Since the film has no dialogue, movement plays an important role, so Beck + Col cast dancers in some of the roles. The pair are big wrestling fans and have incorporated wrestling moves into the fight choreography. Reflecting on wrestling’s combination of athleticism, theatrics, improvisation and collaboration, Col says, “There is no superior art form.”
Classic slasher films from the 1970s and 80s were also major touchstones for the duo, especially John Carpenter Halloween (1978), which “opened up the idea that you’re not safe anywhere”, Beck explained. They also mention the political subtext of many horror films of this era, such as Chainsaw Massacre (1974), which features a murderous family that turns to slaughtering humans after losing their jobs at the local slaughterhouse.
Although Beck+Col has already staged elaborate performances and short films – like The Revolting Lumpen!, a bloody opera based on “the alienation of capital” – they had never undertaken such an ambitious film project, so they enlisted a team including creative producer Mel Sangyi Zhao and cinematographer Marco Yizhou Zhang to help guide their outlook on life.
Beneath their baroque suits and buckets of blood (seven gallons they doused with a fire extinguisher), Beck+Col’s red night is a critique of neoliberal capitalism and the kind of savage individualism associated with it. Unlike the monsters’ elaborate forms, the killer, played by Col, wears only black contact lenses — an Übermensch buff in the buff (Col has spent the past three years preparing for the role). A major textual influence was Sayak Valencia’s 2018 book gory capitalism (MIT Press), which “refers to the undisguised and unjustified bloodshed which is the price to be paid by the Third World for adhering to the increasingly demanding logic of capitalism.
The community spirit embodied by the monsters is echoed by the filmmakers who invited ten artists to create works specifically for the film, including Tanya Brodsky, Alicia Piller, Amia Yokoyama, Ofelia Marquez and others. Textiles, ceramics, paintings and installations blend into their surroundings, color coded for each piece. The works will also be exhibited at Lauren Powell Projects next summer in collaboration with The red night first screening (location to be determined).
“The characters are a chosen family. They support each other,” Beck told Hyperallergic. “When we leave, it ruins everything. It is our artistic family. It’s our community.