Sybil Warren (April Billingsley) is a young woman with issues. She’s a schizophrenic in a mental ward trying to explain to a no-nonsense doctor that she actually can read minds, and her baby was kidnapped by a cult so they could steal its special blood. Sybil needs to be released, so she can track down the baby (who still telepathically cries out to her) and get bloody vengeance on the the Dark Red cultists who cut her open and wrenched that baby from her womb.
Typical of psychiatrists, the doctor isn’t buying this, and for the first hour of The Dark Red we sit in a sterile room with these two as Sybil relives every moment that led her to the institution with sparing flashbacks between. In a painstaking beat-by-beat fashion we’re dragged through a story we’ve seen a dozen times before presented in a way we’ve experienced a dozen times before. The Dark Red tests your patience and hopes you care enough to hang in there and see if Sybil is in fact crazy or a mind-reading cult victim.
Of course, if you’ve seen this kind of movie before in your life, then you already know the answer.
The Dark Red
Director: Dan Bush
Released: March 6, 2020
The Dark Red is a difficult review. It inspires no emotional response, no reaction beyond a shrug. It’s all technically adequate, if static. The lighting is flat but fine. The framing is uninspired. The dialogue is a bit overwrought, a bit melodramatic, but not enough to be amusing or affecting. The philosophy spit between doctor and patient is the usual deal with tangents about how memories aren’t real and the nostalgic power of a smell. Billingsley and company give basic performances, a bit wooden but serviceable. The soundtrack is a standard electronic beat that sounds fine, even if it doesn’t match the film. All its pieces are so run-of-the-mill you’re going to have trouble remembering The Dark Red even hours after you’ve escaped its tedium.
Not everyone can be Matthew Mcconaughey waxing poetic in True Detective. Not everyone can make two people sitting across from each other conversing as compelling as The Booth at the End. The sit-and-talk is nearly always a recipe for disaster, and The Dark Red is a good example of why. You need some truly involved and empathetic performances. You need a cutting script that leaves an audience hanging on every word. You need more intricate mysteries than your standard “Is this person crazy?” sort of deal. The bare minimum isn’t nearly enough.
In the last half-hour, Sybil finally leaves the hospital to plot her revenge, and it’s still nothing special. The cult’s matriarch gets a blood transfusion from a baby, which isn’t especially cool but it’s the best we get. Beyond that, these final minutes are as empty as the first hour. Sybil disguises herself with a laughable Pink Panther-type disguise, and since her schizophrenia is an X-Men superpower like Doctor Sleep‘s horrible revision of the shine, her final climactic confrontation with the cult is as a sort of mind battle. It’s actually a lot like Doctor Sleep‘s climax but worse, and that’s saying something.
The Dark Red offers no spectacle or set piece, no unique twist or groundbreaking performance to justify itself. Its script is uninspired, and its execution is tepid. There’s nothing especially horrible in its production, but still it’ll snatch your time away like a mind-reading baby, and you’ll be left desperate to have it back.