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The Dark Red (2018)

Dark Sky Films

DVD Released: 4/28/2020

All Ratings out of

Movie: 1/2


Audio: 1/2


Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/4/2020

As someone who focuses on plot-structure, one of my least favorite story-telling devices is the flashback tale.  When a film opens with a character who then recalls the story, it robs the movie of suspense.  These movies always show the main individual in some sort of peril, which is pointless, because we know that they survive.  We simply wait for the movie to catch up with the present so that we can know what ultimately occurred.  The Dark Red has several elements which make it seem like just another direct-to-video thriller, including the fact that the main character is asked to recount the story.  Does it do anything to separate itself from the pack? 

As The Dark Red opens, Sybil (April Billingsley) has just been admitted to a mental hospital, where she is being evaluated by Dr. Deluce (Kelsey Scott).  They begin by discussing Sybil’s past, where, as a child, she was orphaned and eventually adopted by her DSS caseworker.  A kind man named Dr. Morales (Bernard Setaro Clark) help young Sybil work through her trauma.  As she got older, Sybil realized that she had the ability to read other people’s minds.  Unfortunately, her disclosure of this, along with her history of trauma, lead to multiple psychiatric diagnoses.  Things changed when Sybil met David (Conal Byrne), a very patient man to whom she grew quite close.  However, things got weird when David took Sybil to meet his parents, which lead to her being institutionalized.  Now, not only must Sybil convince Dr. Deluce that she isn’t crazy, she must protect herself from those who want her powers.

I certainly wouldn’t call The Dark Red a “kitchen sink” movie, but Writers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne certainly have brought many elements to the story.  Along with the “is she crazy?” mental hospital angle, we also get a romance, a paranoid thriller, and a revenge movie all rolled into one.  And, with the finale, we get something akin to Dreamscape or Scanners.  The flashback segment (which also includes some flashbacks within flashbacks) takes up about ¾ of the film’s running time, meaning that we do get something beyond what would be the typical twist ending.

I don’t want to give too much away here, but once the movie’s actual story reveals itself, it’s easy to assume that Bush and Byrne thought to themselves, “I wonder what could have happened after the conclusion of Rosemary’s Baby?”  (Although, this idea has been explored twice before, first in the 1976 made-for-TV movie Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby and author Ira Levin’s 1997 novel Son of Rosemary.)  This takes the story in an interesting direction which focuses on maternal instinct and the extremes a woman will go to in order to protect her child.  It also steers the story away from the supernatural and gives it more of a scientific explanation.

Thus, in some ways, The Dark Red is an ambitious film.  However, it’s the more lackluster bits which keep it from being wholly successful.  Director Dan Bush also served as the film’s editor, so he has only himself to blame for the slack pacing.  As noted above, the plot-structure robs the film of much-needed tension.  There is a scene in which Sybil is attempting to escape from captivity and the fact that we know she does, makes the segment feel tedious.  While most modern independent films have a slick look, there is still something low-budget about this project.  The acting is adequate, but Billingsley isn’t a very compelling lead.  Even with Sybil’s inconsistent nature, this performance makes it difficult to get behind her.  We discussed the fact that the film crosses over several genres and this adds to the unbalanced feel.  There are some good moments here and those who stick with the film will find that the last fifteen minutes is impressive, as the story takes off in a new direction and it offers a very nice call-back to a moment from early in the movie.  The Dark Red is one of those movies which isn’t awful or a mess, but instead is frustrating because it’s easy to imagine how much better it could have been with just a little bit of tweaking.

The Dark Red over-estimates the power of a wig on DVD courtesy of Dark Sky Films.  The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs.  The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain or defects from the source materials.  The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright.  The level of detail is acceptable, but the picture has a slightly flat look to it, which is where the “low budget” look comes in.  The DVD carries a Dolby 2.0 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  The audio is fine, as we can always hear the actors and the music and sound effects never drown out the dialogue.  We get some obvious stereo effects at times, especially when Sybil is in the cave.

The lone extra feature on The Dark Red DVD is a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2020 by Mike Long