LOS ANGELES — On a warm August evening, the walls of Beck’s childhood home were covered in blood. The gruesome scene bore traces of the shocking carnage that befell five friends, who had been bisected, eviscerated, and dismembered by a nefarious intruder. Thankfully the blood was fake, and the friends were characters in a new film that the collaborative duo Beck+Col had just finished shooting. Titled Red Night (2023), the film weaves influences from horror cinema, pop culture, and political theory into a blood-and-guts-soaked phantasmagoric parable about the importance of communal solidarity.
The plot revolves around five monsters who live happily together in a typical suburban house, where their family-style studio portraits, shot by Elizabeth Preger, hang on the living room wall. When one of the monsters returns from a solo outing, they unwittingly bring back a malevolent force that dispatches the creatures one by one. The film culminates in that quintessential symbol of American suburbia, the backyard pool, dyed red.
The pair shot the film in the same house Beck grew up in and where they now live with several cats, just north of Los Angeles. Influenced by stylized Italian Giallo films by Dario Argento and Mario Bava, they painted each of five rooms a separate color: yellow, orange, light blue, dark blue, and peach. Each monster’s costume is elaborately constructed from layers of organza, tuile, 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 the video for “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child 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 huge fans of wrestling and incorporated wrestling moves into the fight choreography. Musing on wrestling’s combination of athleticism, theatricality, improvisation, and collaboration, Col says, “There’s no higher artform.”
Classic slasher films of the 1970s and ’80s were also major touchstones for the duo, especially John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), which “opened up the idea that you’re not safe anywhere,” explained Beck. They also mention the political subtext of many of the horror films from this era, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), which features a murderous family who turns to butchering humans after they lose their jobs at the local slaughterhouse.
Although Beck+Col have staged elaborate performances and short films before — like The Revolting Lumpen!, a blood-soaked opera based on the “alienation of capital” — they had never undertaken a film project this ambitious, so they enlisted a crew including Creative Producer Mel Sangyi Zhao and Director of Photography Marco Yizhou Zhang to help shepherd their vision to life.
Underneath its baroque costumes and buckets of blood (seven gallons which they sprayed from a fire extinguisher), Beck+Col’s Red Night is a critique of neoliberal capitalism and the kind of rugged individualism associated with it. In contrast to the monsters’ elaborate forms, the killer, played by Col, wears nothing except black contact lenses — a buff Übermensch in the buff (Col spent the last three years bulking up for the role). A major textual influence was Sayak Valencia’s 2018 book Gore Capitalism (MIT Press), which “refers to the undisguised and unjustified bloodshed that is the price the Third World pays for adhering to the increasingly demanding logic of capitalism.”
The communal spirit embodied by the monsters is echoed by the filmmakers who invited 10 artists to create works especially for the film, including Tanya Brodsky, Alicia Piller, Amia Yokoyama, Ofelia Marquez, and others. The textiles, ceramics, paintings, and installations blend into their surroundings, color-coded to each room. The artworks will also be exhibited at Lauren Powell Projects next summer in conjunction with Red Night’s debut screening (the location of which is to be determined).
“The characters are a chosen family. They support each other,” Beck told Hyperallergic. “When one leaves, it throws everything off. This is our art family. This is our community.”