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FrightFest 2019 Review - THE DARK RED

the dark red review
A woman with psychic powers is targeted by a cult intent on stealing her unborn child.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Dan Bush

Starring: April Billingsley, Kelsey Scott, Conal Byrne, Rhoda Griffis, John Curran,  Jill Jane Clements

the dark red poster


Writer/director Dan Bush's The Dark Red is the latest heifer to graze in the overcrowded field of thrillers in which a person possessing supernatural gifts is targeted by a sinister cult. Brian de Palma brought this idea to the mainstream with 1978's The Fury, a movie most notable for an exploding John Cassavettes, and it's a premise that has fuelled everything from the 1984 Stephen King adaptation Firestarter to Jeff Nichols' recent sci-fi thriller Midnight Special, not to mention the X-Men franchise of course.


the dark red review

Most of these movies take the form of chase thrillers, usually with some benevolent normies helping the gifted protagonist stay ahead of those who wish to exploit their powers. What makes The Dark Red stand out from its predecessors is that its gifted protagonist, Sybil (April Billingsley), can't count on the help of others, as nobody believes her claims of being able to read minds. Nobody, that is, except for the mysterious forces who wish to get their hands on her unborn child.

[ Read more: FrightFest 2019 Review - Come to Daddy ]

With the narrative split into three psychiatric sessions, Sybil recounts her story to disbelieving but caring psychiatrist Dr. Deluce (Kelsey Scott). Taken into the care of a benevolent social worker who found her as an infant left to rot beside the corpse of her junkie mother, April spends her young life in the care of both her adoptive mother and the affable Dr. Morales (Bernard Setaro Clark), who seems to see something special in her.


the dark red review

At her mother's funeral, April meets David (co-writer Conal Byrne), whose family funded her late mother's work. The two hit it off instantly and begin dating, with April soon discovering she's pregnant. David claims he's happy with the news, but there's an agitated look in his eyes. After putting off introducing April to his parents, he finally brings her to their country estate, where the creepily cordial reception is a little too Get Out for our liking.

[ Read more: FrightFest 2019 Review - The Furies ]

The Dark Red is structured in a manner that might have you checking the running time and wondering when it's all going to kick into gear. A backstory that most movies would devote no more than 20 minutes to constitutes at least three quarters of its narrative, and the climax feels rushed and decidedly anti-climactic. Despite spending so much time in their presence, and in spite of competent performances all around, none of the three leads ever really come off as anything more than archetypes - the troubled psychic who begins to doubt her own sanity; the boyfriend who may not have her best interests at heart; and the caring but ultimately unreceptive care-worker.


the dark red review

Bush's film's biggest issue however is how it fails to really delve into Sybil's gifts. We're told a lot about her powers, but we rarely see them in action. As is the case with most of these movies, when you have a protagonist with special powers, it's difficult to place them in peril, as they're always the most powerful person in the room. That's particularly the case here, as the villainous cult members are about as threatening as a litter of Labrador pups. But despite her gifts, when the shit hits the fan Sybil relies not on her psychic intuition but on an old fashioned shotgun, which begs the question "What was the point of all this?"

The Dark Red is on Digital HD November 18th.



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