THE DARK RED Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Tony sees red.

There are movies that wear their influences subtly, almost behind their hands, fluttering fans of exposition or action at you every now and again to disguise where they’re coming from.

Then there are movies that more or less revel in their influences and put them right up there on the screen for you to notice as you go through.

The Dark Red is the second type of movie, a horror thriller with bits of Rosemary’s Baby, bits – or so it seems – of I Spit On Your Grave, and even, though I’m sure that’s less intentional, bits of Torchwood, Children Of Earth about it, with liberal helpings of The Sixth Sense, a scoop of The Da Vinci Code, a handful of Scanners and even a touch of Glass about it. It absolutely shouldn’t work, this blend of ingredients – it should be a ghastly, ungovernable mess.

It’s not a ghastly, ungovernable mess.

It’s not, at any stage, particularly fun, but then it’s not really supposed to be – it’s supposed to pull you in and involve you in the story of a woman with a past, a mystery, and maybe, if she’s exceptionally lucky, even a future. And that, it does really well, threatening at almost every stage of the game to flip the script on you, and actually pulling that flip once or twice, usually just at the moment when you think you’ve figured out what’s really going on.

Sybil Warren (April Billingsley) is a troubled woman. Traumatised as a child, she seemingly suffers from sensory delusions – after a scene that shows us at least something of her early trauma, we’re introduced to her as mostly a mouth in a psych ward, being interviewed by Dr Deluce (Kelsey Scott), the gatekeeper of her freedom. And so unfolds a nerve-jangling story of a woman who fell in love, who got pregnant with the man of her dreams (played like a sweater-wearing Nathan Fillion by co-writer Conal Byrne), and who ultimately went home to meet her would-be in-laws.

If nothing else, this movie will make you scared to go home to meet your prospective in-laws. There are facades, layers, lies, an unsual dinner, and Sybil wakes up from a sleep…no longer pregnant.

The reasons she wakes up no longer pregnant would be spoilerific, as would the reasons behind the reasons, but the question thrums throughout this movie – what the hell is real, and what is not? Because Sybil has a history of schizophrenia and delusions, you treat everything in the movie on at least two levels even as you watch it the first time – are the people on screen now real, or imagined? Did events happen the way Sybil describes them, or did she imagine them for some reason or other? This question of what’s real and what isn’t stops you ever relaxing during this movie – you’re never absolutely sure, even at the end, that what you’ve witnessed is the product of a reliable narrator, because the story she tells (and ultimately shows us) is bat-crap crazy. It’s every conspiracy theory you could imagine (a la Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen), for the sake of a bloodline of unusual power (The Da Vinci Code), positively brimming with class condescension – one particularly loathsome rich man tells Sybil at one point that she’s nothing but an animal for breeding, and you could actually read the whole movie as a metaphor for the 1% leeching off the poor if you decided to activate your social conscience while watching a horror thriller. The movie follows Sybil on a quest not only to establish what the hell is really going on, but once she’s reasonably confident about it, to get her Sarah Connor on, train, plan, fight and ultimately kill her way to a confrontation with those who she maintains took her baby from her. There are real battles and symbolic ones, assassinations, discreditings, you name it – the powers she faces, if we accept her explanation, are controlling every lever and every level of society, with a very particular interest at heart. The ongoing uncertainty about which elements of what we’re seeing in any way correspond to an agreed-upon reality makes the action interesting and throws us off-kilter as Sybil plans to take her revenge and ideally, find a kind of liberation from the clutches of this all-powerful cabal of rich evil monsters.

Billingsley deserves some serious props here for keeping the movie on a knife-edge when it could easily have fallen into schlock territory. Dan Bush, as writer-director too, is to be congratulated for never allowing the movie to fall into quite the territory of some movies with which this shares a bloodline, like Scanners and I Spit On Your Grave. Yes, there are unusual mental powers involved, and yes, something horrible is done to a defenceless young woman who then kills her way to retribution and redress, but there’s always that pulse of uncertainty over the truth of things that keeps you watching here, rather than ever daring to believe you know what’s what and losing interest in a tale already told.

Is The Dark Red an eternal classic of horror cinema? Probably not – it’s a little too sane for that on some levels. While there’s gore and stabbing and people being shot in the leg and the head and locked inside imaginary cupboards of darkness (we mentioned the part where you’re never entirely sure what’s real, right?), it’s a movie that prefers for the most part to drive your nerves like a violin-bow back and forth over a razor-blade for an hour and a half, giving you effectively telegraphed moments of deeply unnerving action, rather than jump-scares. In other words, while it might not rank among the eternal classics, it’s a movie that will deeply disturb you throughout the entirety of its run-time and then stay in your head for hours afterwards, prodding at you, making you wonder about the nature of reality, and whether in fact, there might be cabals of evil, corrupted human beings running the world for their own ends. While the Romantic in your soul might call that a lazy assumption, the pragmatist in your brain has to admit it would explain a whole hell of a lot.

The Dark Red is a symphony of disturbing influences and beats, held together by a plot that ballet-steps over the line from one reality to another and back a handful of times during the course of ninety minutes or so. It’s realistically played by all its cast, despite delving into murky psychological waters and potentially unreal realities, and the fact that everybody plays it deadpan helps to heighten the unnerving realism of these mad, unlikely plot elements, and turn them into something, like Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, that’s upsetting and wince-making and disturbing all at once, but from which you’ll also find it impossible at any point to pull away.<

Give it a go – but don’t blame us if it keeps you up at night.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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