Return In Red

FEBRUARY 2, 2008


I wasn’t too kind to Ti West’s films The Roost and Trigger Man, two VERY independent productions that were far too slow and just plain uninteresting to me. I would hope those reviews (coupled with my admitted love of brain-dead action movies) wouldn’t lead anyone to believe I simply don’t like a movie that takes its time, because in reality, I am often quite compelled with this type of film. Such is the case with Return In Red, which is sort of an even MORE indie version of a film like The Signal.

Yes for the first twenty minutes or so (and several later chunks of time throughout the 101 minute film), the film is just comprised of small town folks just sort of doing their thing: fixing TV antennas, going to/from work, washing their hands, etcAnd even when folks begin going nuts/dying (due to a mysterious humming sound emanating from a white van that drives around the town), it won’t be mistaken for a Bruckheimer film; like West’s films, the violence comes suddenly and swiftly (at one point a guy died literally as I was saying “take your time, movie”). There’s really only one sort of horror setpiece in the entire film, as our heroine (by default) is besieged by the crazy folks inside a factory.

Those rare moments also include some unexpectedly top notch gore. Kudos to the team for pulling off the impressive effects on what couldn’t have been more than a few thousand dollars budget. On one occasion, a guy is repeatedly rammed with a forklift, until his head is partially severed. Good stuff.

Speaking of being impressed, this is the rare indie where you don’t see all of the same names in the cast as you do in the crew. In fact there are none other than the makeup guys playing (non-character) victims. The crew guys make the film, the actors act. Granted none of them are going to be up for a Spirit award, but then again they’re far from bad – the movie just doesn’t give them anything much to do. It’s an ensemble cast (hell, the guy that’s sort of the hero gets killed with a half hour to go), no one is more important than anyone else.

The end of the film is pretty chilling. SPOILERS – it’s never spelled out, but random radio voiceovers and the like suggest that the whole event was a government test. Indeed, the spots where the van was parked to play its sound are marked with orange flags, and the flags disappear at the end of the film. This idea is conveyed very subtly, and it freaked me out a little bit. Nice work.

There is also a bit of levity in the film. At one point an old man does an impression of the humming sound. Not only does it not sound like it at all, but he also flaps his arms around a bit as he “hums”. It’s hilarious. There’s also a guy who runs the factory (where half the town seems to be employed) who constantly swears for no reason. “Get back to work!” will not suffice for this guy, it’s “Get the FUCK back to work!” He pretty much works in an F-bomb in every one of his lines, and it delighted me every time.

On the technical side of things, the movie is disappointingly presented full frame, but the 16mm footage is quite good. The movie looks like it was shot in the 80s (if not for a modern Coke machine with 20 oz plastic bottles selling for 1.25, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything to date this movie past 1987 or so), which in hindsight was a great choice on director/writer’s Tyler Tharpe – even though his film predates those other stories, people tend to be stupid when it comes to such things, and it doesn’t help that the film, shot in 2004, just hit DVD in 2007, when the Stephen King novel Cell had been out for a while and The Signal had already gotten some buzz from festivals.

It won’t be for everyone, and I can’t even quite explain why I liked it more than those other films, but either way I think you should give it a shot if you happen upon it. It’s worth it for the old man’s little ‘moment’ alone.

What say you?


  1. Return In Red is a very effective study of paranoid isolation set against a bleak rural landscape and featuring a literal handful of players, all of which are completely believable. The low budget approach works in its favor, lending an unsettling documentary feel to the proceedings, and the glacial pacing (lamented by many ADD afflicted viewers) actually underscores the menacing dread as the story progresses to its disturbing conclusion. There's a certain kind of brilliance at work here, and I came away from this film grateful for the experience. And knowing that our own military is in fact actively pursuing electromagnetic weapon programs on a scale far worse than what's hinted at in this film isn't exactly comforting. Return In Red is required viewing, if only to remind yourself that all's definitely not well in wonderland. Beware the hum.

  2. Dude, I don't watch many films these days because most of them are such idiotic trash, but RiR absolutely blew me away. It's beautifully constructed, and I think often about it since seeing it two months ago. I'm still thinking about it, and found this site.

    A rare find, RiR. Thanks.

  3. Saw this on netflix. Seriously, one of the worst films I have ever seen. Ever. Terribly paced, even worse acting.

    Sure, sure, I know its low budget but wow. The plot is so razor thin, they actually have a voiceover spell out the WHOLE THING at the end.

    It took me like 4 tries to get through the whole thing.

  4. The video is real. Strange harvest.

  5. I liked it! All the characters were familiar to me (okay, I've spent some time in tiny towns), and the growing sense of something being not... quite... right was excellent. Ellsie banging her head on the door freaked me out!! Fine indie film-making.


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