SXSW Review: Red 11


In 1992, an aspiring filmmaker spent a month as a lab rat in exchange for a $7,000 paycheck. He flipped that check into El Mariachi and from there Robert Rodriguez’s career took off. Now, 25 years since the film’s release, Rodriguez revisits his low-budget roots in Red 11.

Based off his time as a pharmaceutical test subject, Red 11 takes Rodriguez’s experiences a step further in the new thriller. In the film, Rob (Roby Attal) finds himself in desperate need of some fast cash. As the eleventh person in the red group, he quickly learns the lab isn’t quite what it seems, and sets Rob, aka “Red 11,” on a twisted path to take them down.

Red 11
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Rating: NR
Release Date: TBD

Rob and his friend owe a lot of money to the wrong people. In an attempt to pay his portion, Rob signs up for pharmaceutical experimentation with a local drug company. All he has to do is get a couple of scars and see if the speed healing pills they give him work. There are other groups experimenting with other pills, each group hanging with same colored shirts in an immediate form of tribalism. Then there’s the mysterious solo Black Shirt whom Rob sees in dreamlike states. 

Red 11 quickly forms a bond with Red 7 (Eman Esfandi), a lab rat lifer who’s there for the paycheck and free room and board. He is Red 11’s tour guide of the place, providing exposition while annoying the doctors endlessly. There’s Movie Guy (Michael Fisher), a guy who likes movies. There’s Spoiler (Pierce Bailey), a guy who spoils movies. There’s Score (Alejandro Rose-Garcia), a guy who scores life in real-time with an iPad while giving the viewers a peek into how movie composition is practiced.

Then there’s Magenta 6 (Lauren Hatfield). A young woman who quickly becomes the center of attention for Red 11, and the two soon find themselves in a precarious situation. Magenta 6’s ulterior motive for participating in the program is made clear, and Red 11’s got a choice to make. Does he help, or stick with his own plan? As his mind starts to cave, discerning between real and hallucination becomes more and more difficult. Are the pills actually giving him superpowers, or is that just in his head? The perception of real versus imaginary twists and turns right up through the final minute.

It’s easy to watch this film and point out the lack of money involved. But seeing what Rodriguez was able to do with the self-imposed budget restrictions is a testament to his creativity and ability to problem solve on the fly. He gave himself one crew member and two weeks to shoot the film in its entirety. During the post-screening Q&A, his son and lone crew member, Racer Max, explained how each day posed a problem that they didn’t have an answer for until they were actually ready to shoot the scene. He quickly realized this is a normal, everyday process for making a film. 

Rodriguez also went on to explain how creative they had to get with lighting, editing, and a scene that involves a syringe in the eye. Rodriguez even used some props from his other movies for one particular fight scene as a way of resourceful repurposing. There’s even a moment where Magenta 6 is scrolling through TV channels, each one showing a previous Rodriguez film. When asked why she doesn’t pick one, she responds, “I’m looking for something good.”

Red 11 is best viewed with the knowledge of the monetary cap. It’s twisted, with genuine moments worthy of cringe. Rodriguez said he wanted to put in the real story first, then heighten it from there. Some of the characters were based on real people, and the film is even dedicated to the real-life Red 7, whom Rodriguez met over two decades ago. Realizing the creative intuitiveness is the real reason the film is fun to watch. The use of local actors is noble but is easily reflected in the film. The story itself can feel convoluted at times, including the ending that leaves viewers with a questioning head turn. 

Nick Hershey