THE DARK RED ** USA 2018 Dir: Dan Bush. 102 mins
Brought up in social care after her mother’s death, young April Billingsley spends much of THE DARK RED trying to convince the professionals that her own baby’s recent, alleged abduction is not just a delusion in a life marred by drug addiction and mental illness. She reflects on being groomed by a charming stranger years earlier and falling victim to his religious family’s unhealthy interest in her gift: a rare form of schizophrenia allowing her to read minds. Her claims resemble a news story from the “Satanic Panic” era of American tabloid TV: she’s either insane or truly did get taken in by a cult pursuing those with her rare blood type and conducting an enforced C-section in an underground hideaway. Billingsley’s strong, convincing portrayal of a disturbed, possibly unreliable narrator is the strongest suit of this pedestrian chiller.
Weighed down by clunky exposition and heavy-handed explanatory interludes, the movie thematically borrows from some of the horror greats: a dash of those Stephen King characters with remarkable psychic abilities; a pinch of Roman Polanski’s chummy, grinning Satanists. The flat visual style, structure and pacing, however, give it the look and feel of a vintage made for TV American drama rather than the 70’s occult horror films to which it seems to aspire. Silly secondary characters do it no favours and it takes a fatal credibility plunge at a crucial moment when the audience is asked to accept an unintentionally amusing bit of SCOOBY DOO-style wig-wearing subterfuge.
Review by Steven West