JULY 10, 2008
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PRESS SCREENING)
I had a sneaking suspicion that Red wouldn’t really count as a horror movie, which is why I watched Prophecy as a backup before I went to the screening. And it’s not, not really, but since I counted The Lost (also written by Jack Ketchum) I figured it “sort of” counts, and since I had to write a review anyway...
Red is much better than The Lost (or Girl Next Door for that matter) as we aren’t meant to side with people doing reprehensible things, nor are we required to suspend our disbelief so that poor casting decisions don’t prevent the film from making sense. It’s also a story that is much easier to identify with: that of a man looking to avenge the senseless death of his dog.
Killing a dog is sort of cinematic short of hand – no matter what you will instantly hate the killer of said dog. It’s an easy way to characterize a villain, and thus it is used often. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that is ABOUT the killing of a dog, and so I went in a bit unsure of how much I’d enjoy the film, as a dog lover who can’t even stand it when it occurs offscreen in a subplot (anyone ever see Dominic and Eugene? That one is just BRUTAL and it’s an accidental death). Luckily, they don’t give you much of a chance to sort of “fall in love” with Red, as he is killed pretty much in the 2nd scene of the film. If there was a half an hour of the dog playing with kids and doing cute shit, and THEN he got killed, I probably would have had to leave (like two folks did). But it’s gotten out of the way quickly, so that the film’s real story can come into focus.
See, it’s not about Cox turning vigilante and hunting down the kids who did it. The film is a parable about righting the wrongs, making up for one’s mistakes, etc. Around an hour or so into the film, Brian Cox delivers a backstory about his character’s family, and suddenly his reasons for trying to get the boys to pay for their actions (not in the Bronson way, but in the “tell the police what you did” way) make a lot more sense, and you realize that the film is more about HIS redemption than that of the kid who pulled the trigger.
It’s a far more human story from Jack Ketchum (adapted by Stephen Susco – another surprise as he is responsible for the character-lite Grudge films), erasing the idea that he was a one trick pony. After the other two films, I expected Red to go one of two ways – either we would follow the asshole who shot the dog around and try to make him into the sort of antihero, or Cox’s character would turn out to be a reprehensible asshole himself, and the movie would turn into Changing Lanes, where you can’t really root for either party after a while. But it’s light on violence and retribution, and throughout the film it’s all character. Scenes go by without a word, and even characters with small roles, such as Robert Englund as one of the boys’ fathers, manage to become three dimensional in only a few minutes of screen time.
The writers (I haven’t read the book so I don’t know who is responsible for what) also manage some great trick foreshadowing. There’s another one of those quiet scenes where Cox just simply leaves his bedroom, mourning the lack of his pal beside him. As he shuts the door we see several scratches, obviously made by the dog. So you’re thinking “Aw, he’s always going to have this reminder of how big of a role the dog played in his life”, and probably not much else. But later, during his revelation, we discover the true nature behind the scratches, and it not only makes you love the dog even more, but proves that the filmmakers were definitely not into doing anything for the sake of doing it; everything is there for a reason.
It’s even more impressive that the film came together so well when you consider the behind the scenes drama. Lucky McKee was the original director, and was “removed” halfway through production and replaced by Trygve Allister Diesen (Angela Bettis also was replaced by Kim Dickens – which I’m OK with, it seems a better fit for Dickens). The whole story has yet to become clear, but it’s obvious that the changes were not amicable. But it’s not a schizophrenic ordeal like The Invasion (also the victim of a different director for half the film), and honestly there is not a single thing in the film that feels rushed, incomplete, or just plain “off”. The only exception is a rather schmaltzy ending, but apparently the book ended the same way so that’s no one from the movie’s fault.
It’s not a horror film, but it definitely has appeal to fans. Apart from Englund, we are also treated to Ashley Laurence (still incredibly beautiful) in a small role, as well as some other familiar faces (Amanda Plummer, Richard Riehle, and of course the original Hannibal, Cox himself), and Tom Sizemore delivers his best performance in years as the asshole's even more asshole-ish father. Plus, if Ketchum has a niche, it is definitely the sort of “real horror” that is usually based on a true story (not sure if that is the case with Red), as opposed to monsters and masked killers and such. In the end, losing one of my pets in the manner shown here is more terrifying a thought than anything else I’ve watched recently. Highly recommended.
What say you?