24th Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘The Dark Red’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: April Billingsley, Kelsey Scott, Conal Byrne, Bernard Setaro Clark, Rhoda Griffis, John Curran, Jill Jane Clements | Written by Dan Bush, Conal Byrne | Directed by Dan Bush

dark-red-poster

Writer/director Dan Bush and writer Conal Byrne team for the third time, following The Reconstruction of William Zero (2014) and The Vault (2017) with The Dark Red, which tells the story of Sybil – a woman who is being held against her will in a psychiatric ward because her claims are extreme. She says her newborn baby was kidnapped by a secret society to harvest its supernatural blood. She says her families bloodline means her baby has, like her, great psychic powers – including the ability to hear other people’s thoughts. Trapped on a psych ward, subject to a multitude of psychiatric sessions, she begs the doctors to let her go so she can rescue her child from the cult’s dungeons.

The question The Dark Red poses is it Sybil telling the truth, or is it just mere delusion?

I’m not going to sugar coat it, I’ve never really clicked with any of Dan Bush’s films. Former Frightfest flick The Signal left me cold and The Vault felt too much like a concerted effort to make a mainstream genre film that would also appeal to DTV fans, and fell short in all areas. However with The Dark Red Bush seems to have hit his stride.

Told partly in flashback during the sessions with her shrink, The Dark Red‘s story unfolds slowly – and all from Sybil’s possibly broken perspective. Finding herself in a brand-new relationship, falling pregnant to a man, David, played by co-writer Conal Byrne, whose behaviour is a little “off” from the get-go (he seems to be forever worried about someone or something following or watching him), Sybil reveals to her new beau that she can read minds and she apparently does so to a young woman on the bus – telling David that the girl is pregnant and she doesnt know who the father is thanks to an affair.

Again, this is all being told from Sybil’s perspective – one whose validity is called into question from the very start of this film. The film continues to cut back and forth from past to present: from psych ward to Sybil’s life, revealing more and more about Sybil and how she’s come to be in the situation she is in now. Then…

Well, THEN the proverbial shit hits the fan!

Turns out The Dark Red‘s slow-burn plot of a troubled woman in a new relationship is actually hiding much more. OK, so we can guess that yes, David’s oddness means that he and his family are hiding plenty themselves: and it’s connected to the fact Sybil has powers. Think something akin to the plot of Roman Polanski’s classic Rosemary’s Baby only this family want the baby for its psychic powers, hence having their son carry on a relationship with Sybil. A son who it would seem isn’t quite with the cult-like program.

However, once we get settled into this story, The Dark Red then tips it hat and switches from a film about a cult using a young woman for their own bizarre ritualistic needs and Bush and Byrne unveil that under all that the film is actually hiding a brutal revenge movie with a Carrie twist. And that’s also where the films real pay off lies – it’s nice to see a film tell a cohesive tale, one that keeps you guessing for the most part (in this case about what’s real and what isn’t) and then gives you a satisfying conclusion that joins all the dots strewn throughout its plot. And oh man, did The Dark Red do that brilliantly!

**** 4/5

Reminiscent of the likes of Scannners, and in particular its myriad of sequels, The Dark Red screened at this years Arrow Video Frightfest on Saturday August 24th 2019.

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