Wednesday, March 04, 2020

The Dark Red: Psychic or Psycho

It’s generally a bad thing when a patient hears voices. It’s even worse when they are real. The slightly agitated Sybil Warren will try convince her highly skeptical shrink such is true for her. To be fair, she is entitled to be in-treatment given the trauma she has suffered, but it is a matter of legal commitment in Warren’s case. Dr. Deluce is in for some tense sessions during Dan Bush’s The Dark Red, which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Warren’s adopted mother recently died, her husband disappeared, and her baby was taken from her (by a secret society, she claims). That is a lot for one person to bear, but she is not a normal person. According to Warren, she has special psychic powers related to her rare blood type. Calling it “Type X” would probably be too on the nose, but that is the general idea. She can often hear people’s thoughts, but instead of a blessing, it has led to life-long issues of mental stability. Frankly, it is reasonable for Dr. Deluce to assume she is delusional. Given her twitchiness, viewers might start to suspect the same, but since this is a horror movie, we can guess there is more than a kernel of truth to what she says.

In terms of genre elements, Dark Red is very much X-Men mixed with Scanners, but the narrative takes a turn that is very much like Get Out without the racial dynamics. There is definitely a fair amount of horrifying mayhem, yet it is a surprisingly quiet film. Even though there are a number of familiar motifs, Bush and co-screenwriter (and co-star) Conal Byrne recombine them in intriguing ways.

April Billingsley is impressively forceful and unpredictable as Warren. It is not that we doubt her story (because that is what we came for), but we can believe she is having doubts of her own. She is also quite a power to be reckoned with during her action scenes. Billingsley’s screen presence nicely compliments and contrasts with Byrne playing her suspiciously smooth husband, David Hollyfield. Like a good therapist, Kelsey Scott maintains a professional demeanor that largely masks who Dr. Deluce might be inside, but Bernard Setaro Clark gives the film some schlubby soul and conviction as Warren’s understanding doctor from flashbacks.

Even though Dark Red is a horror film with speculative elements and an ambiguous sense of reality, Bush still makes it feel very much grounded in the real world during the psycho-analysis sessions. There is actually a working-class vibe to the film that serves it well. Recommended for genre fans, The Dark Red opens this Friday (3/6) in Los Angeles at the Arena and releases day-and-date on digital.