FrightFest 2019: The Dark Red
Director: Dan Bush
Writers: Dan Bush and Conal Byrne
Starring: April Billingsley, Kelsey Scott, and Conal Byrne
The Dark Red tells the story of Sybil Warren (April Billingsley) who is committed to a psychiatric ward by her physician after her baby supposedly died in childbirth. With a long list of past trauma and schizophrenia, Sybil must convince her therapist of the truth, that her baby didn’t die but was stolen by a cult, if she wishes to get out. Initial Reactions C. I’m down to two alternative titles for The Dark Red, either The Exposition or The Unprofessional Therapist, I’ll let you decide. I am all for a patient telling a therapist how they got to the place they’re at now, hell, I’ll defend Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness any day of the week. Usually when this format happens, the patient starts talking and then the movie goes into play with the patient/therapist scene acting as bookends. Here, the first third of the movie is primarily flashbacks with Sybil narrating… but that’s not all. We continuously jump back to the patient/therapist scene which goes into basic information of schizophrenia, memories, pregnancy (well, as accurate as you can get with two male writers), and other topics. The therapist. makes it well known that she doesn’t believe Sybil and constantly breaks her professionalism by adding personal opinion. Part of the intrigue initially of a movie like this is, “did Sybil make this up to deal with the trauma of losing her baby or is this baby-stealing cult real?” This ISN’T A SPOILER since it’s established early on but she’s telling the truth. Once we know this information the story does one of its many shifts. On a side note: As a happy new father, I don’t think the story is doing its job if I’m unaffected by her plight and I think if it was all fantasized, I’d be more satisfied by the end. By satisfied I don’t mean all questions have to be answered, I actually believe some of the problems arise from trying to explain the reasoning behind every element. As to not spend too much time, here is a list of all the elements that pop up randomly that have you going, “huh, so this is what’s happening now”: - Sybil doesn’t have schizophrenia. It’s all true. - She’s telepathic - Her baby communicates with her on a psychic level. “You mean like Prevenge or Baby Blood? No? Oh, we’re dropping the baby thing now?” - The baby’s father’s family is a cult looking to steal Sybil’s baby to harvest because she has special blood. - Where’d this underground fortress come from? - Illuminati conspiracy - Sybil is now Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. - Wait… she can have Scanners-like mind battles now? - Other stuff This all being said, there is one chunk of the movie that hits really well, and that is when her baby is being removed and then she has to escape the complex. The look and feel reminded me of something out of the French Extremity movement (with less gore of course). However, as quickly as we entered, it leaves for the sci-fi conspiracy thriller/revenge genre. Complaints aside, it’s shot well, looks clean, and has solid effects. Based on his influences and with focus, Dan Bush could create something I’d gladly get behind. J. I’m a sucker for the “is the character crazy or is the outlandish story they believe actually true” scenario. This aspect of The Dark Red works pretty well especially when the therapist has all the “evidence” to negate Sybil’s story. How the therapist came up with all the “evidence” is anyone’s guess. Is she part of the conspiracy? Who the hell knows. With how unprofessional she acts toward Sybil I would assume the answer is yes. Anyway, this thing has everything in it and then when you wouldn’t think it could throw anything else into the mix, it’s revealed that Sybil is actually one of the X-Men. Not really, but not a stretch either. There’s also a lot of Sybil and her therapist talking. Nearly half of the film these two talk to one another. It helps that we get the scenes in flashbacks but still… that’s a lot of fucking talking! And then once we are let in on the secret that Sybil isn’t crazy, she displays her X-Men abilities again and learns tactical weapons training in what amounts to about ten seconds, hence Craig’s Sarah Connor reference. All around, this is a hard one to wrap your brain around because the film itself has some schizophrenic qualities. K. This film starts off as is-she-crazy or isn’t-she-crazy thriller, that then morphs into a conspiracy thriller with psychics and then finally a revenge film. In other words, it’s all over the map, and if they pulled it off I wouldn’t complain, but they don’t. Unfortunately, this is another case of poor writing. Bush and Byrne drag out the set-up with a series of lengthy flashbacks explaining the backstory and in doing so relying heavily on voiceover narration. The thing is, all of this could have been greatly condensed but it’s drawn out to reach a feature running time. The actors do what they can with the material, particularly Billingsley, unfortunately it’s hard to connect with the story and as such you’re really not drawn into her journey. The one exception to this being Conal Byrne, who stands out like a sore thumb, the scene where he picks up Billingsley at her adopted mother’s funeral shattered my suspension of disbelief. The back and forth between Billingsley and the therapist leads up to the oh-so-obvious twist that her baby was taken by an elite group who kidnap children with psychic powers, to what end is never revealed. There’s some decent ideas here, but they are stretched too thin and the film’s flat Lifetime movie like aesthetic is mind-numbingly bland. How this got into Fright Fest I will never know.
Response C. There’s the bones of an incredible movie (or 3) inside The Dark Red to fill my body horror and pregnancy terror-loving heart but it is sporadic and spends most of the movie telling how smart it is with cinematic pseudoscience. Watching it feels like the filmmakers decided to throw everything they loved in because they didn’t want to waste this one opportunity. It’s a psychological horror, pregnant horror, conspiracy thriller, and sci-fi action. All of those things I am totally down for but together it feels like it comes out of nowhere. J. For me, this is a problem of too much going on. The “is she crazy or not” angle is a terrific starting point and I felt the strongest thread in the story. Psychic abilities, extremely rare blood, conspiracy cults with underground lairs with asshole doctors performing cesarean surgeries… and we haven’t even gotten to the Sarah Connor bit yet… or another element I might be forgetting. It’s never really boring but it is schizophrenic as all hell. That diagnosis is easy to determine. K. This film had a lot of interesting ideas that really didn’t go together. My main problem here was the so-called twist revealing that the protagonist isn’t crazy, but is in fact telling the truth, which we spend 30 minutes or so debating, was immediately obvious. That and the filmmaking style was so generic and passionless. Bloodhound’s average score: 1.5 out of 5