The Dark Red
Directed by: Dan Bush
Run time: 101 minutes
The Lowdown: Way back in 2007, Dan Bush was one of three writer-directors to collaborate on The Signal, an impressive and batshit bonkers depiction of a mass event that turned friends and loved ones against each other in an apocalyptic nightmare.
Bush’s creative cohorts at that time were David Bruckner and Jacob Gentry.
Bruckner used The Signal as a launchpad, going on to helm standout segments in the popular anthology films V/H/S and Southbound.
Gentry, in 2016, unleashed Synchronicity, one of the best, trippiest time-travel thrillers ever filmed.
But Bush lagged far behind. His 2017 ghost-heist mashup The Vault, despite starring James Franco and Francesca Eastwood, sounded great on paper but fizzled on screen.
Thankfully, with his latest solo feature, The Dark Red, Bush seems to have reclaimed his groove with a stellar comeback turn.
The Dark Red is a bona fide mind screw that opens with a social worker discovering a newborn trapped in a broken-down trailer next to the bloated body of its dead mother.
It jumps off from there, moving to a psychiatric hospital where a female patient, Sybil Warren (April Billingsley), has so far resisted all efforts to own up and accept the mental illness that her doctors believe she is suffering from.
Sybil has a history of episodes, a well-documented litany of her hearing voices and claiming to know things she shouldn’t. While she maintains that 10 days earlier, her baby was forcibly taken by a strange cannibalistic cult, no one believes her, and with good reason.
Which is where Dr. Deluce (Kelsey Scott) comes in. She’s been assigned to meet with Sybil to try and make her understand that if she ever wants to be released, she must first acknowledge that paranoia is fueling her delusion that her child was abducted.
Early on, Bush breaks The Dark Red into segments focused on the meetings between Sybil and Deluce, and he populates those therapy sessions with a host of rich flashbacks that show Sybil meeting a potential soulmate named David (Conal Byrne), with whom she eventually gets pregnant and finally is introduced to his parents, Rose (Rhoda Griffis) and William (John Curran).
Sybil is shocked to learn that David has already shared intimate details of Sybil’s clairvoyant abilities with his parents. Even more troubling is how deep Rose and William lean into her precognitive gifts, peppering her with strange questions.
The Dark Red is impressive because of the narrative risks that Bush takes to create fully formed characters. He doesn’t rush his story, which is refreshing.
By the time viewers realize the threat that Sybil faces, and the way that her personal trajectory has been shaped by forces outside her control, The Dark Red has fully set its hooks and then leans back, ratcheting up the tension to white-knuckle levels.
The second half of The Dark Red is a thrilling, adrenalized rush of violence, telekinetic standoffs and rich mythology.
The Dark Red is a bigger and almost more ambitious turn by Bush that should give fans cause to celebrate.
More than anything, it shows that his contribution to The Signal wasn’t a fluke.
The Dark Red isn’t perfect, but it’s really, really good, and that to me counts as a big win.
For the first time in a long time, I’m stoked to see what Bush does next.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Baby-stealing cultists.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom (Terror Films, 71 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Writer-director Mark Dossett’s feature debut, The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom, has a solid premise.
Cullom (Shannon Scott), is a shut-in, a young woman crippled by agoraphobia, who is forced to survive on her own at home for several days after her mother is delayed in returning from a work conference.
Cullom approaches even mundane daily tasks, ordering groceries through a delivery service, for example, with abject terror. Simply cracking open the front door to retrieve a sack of food is nearly impossible for her to do.
And while she keeps a list of activities to achieve, things like walking outside onto the front porch and staying there for a few minutes create a near-debilitating crush of anxiety.
When Dossett introduces a foreign presence, a possible invader, who has somehow snuck past Cullom’s meticulous security checks, his film should take off like a nerve-shredding roller coaster on a rickety track.
The problem is that never happens. The problem, for a film barely more than an hour in length, is that precious little happens for the first half-hour, which is about the point that I gave up.
The one surprising takeaway from The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom is how successful Dossett is at showing just how bad it would suck to be trapped at home in the 1980s, the time period his film is set in, compared to today’s technological advancements, due to basic cable, rotary-dial phones and crappy snack foods.
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Extra Ordinary (Cranked Up Films, 94 minutes, R, Video-on-Demand): Extra Ordinary is, indeed, extraordinary.
It’s that rare horror-comedy where the focus falls predominantly on the humor, and you simply don’t care because the film overall is just so refreshingly original and fun.
And it features one of the most effervescent, unflappable heroines in a horror movie in quite some time.
Extra Ordinary is so endearing, and so surprisingly fresh, because it plays with audience expectations of how a paranormal medium might react when faced with a ghostly crisis.
Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins) is a medium and a driving instructor. One job pays the bills, but it’s her clairvoyant gift that keeps putting her in problematic situations.
Dooley is blissfully naïve when it comes to her abilities. When other characters make reference to pop culture mainstays like Ghostbusters or The Exorcist, Dooley gives them a blank-faced, what are you talking about, look. It’s funny because you expect her to immediately get the comparisons.
The other high point of Extra Ordinary arrives in the form of Christian Winter (Will Forte), a struggling musician who had one good song – he’s called a ‘one hit Winter’ – before finding himself a discount bin artist. In a bid for comeback glory, Winter has decided to sell his soul to the devil for the fame he expected but so far has eluded him due to his apparent lack of actual musical talent.
Winter plays a recording of ominous music while chanting incantations. It’s yet another example of how Extra Ordinary toys with expectations. Such eerie orchestral sounds are always present in scary movies whenever a witch or warlock is casting a spell. But rarely is it the bad guy who’s piping in those sounds on his own for added effect.
This is one title that should be high on your Must-See list.
The Dare (The Horror Collective, 97 minutes, R, Video-on-Demand): For those who like their horror to be oppressive and uncomfortable, director/co-writer Giles Alderson’s The Dare is a movie that sticks with you long after the credits roll.
The Dare plays out like twin locomotives locked on a collision course that can’t be undone.
There’s the present-day mystery, which involves four people who are kidnapped, seemingly at random, who wake up in a cavernous barn, chained and at the mercy of a brutish monster in a mask.
And then there’s the flashback context, which involves the brutish monster as a young boy, forced into a life of servitude and madness by Credence (Richard Brake).
Credence is a stone-cold killer, but he craves a legacy, which he sees in the boy that he catches and keeps as his own after killing his parents.
While it’s true that Brake (31, Three from Hell) really plays the same character over and over, I’m of the belief that when he does it so well, why should any of us care.
The Dare is bleak, relentless and horrific, but there’s no denying the skill with which Alderson executes his vision.
A Wakefield Project (High Octane Pictures, 88 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): A Wakefield Project, the found-footage debut feature from director L.A. Lopes, is mostly about the fallout from a solar flare, but with a supernatural twist.
The main characters are two male friends trying to re-purpose a money pit into a bed and breakfast. To that end, one of the guys hires a medium to come clean the property of evil spirits.
There’s a lot happening story-wise, but not enough happening on-camera to truly hook viewers. Plus, the main theme, at least to me, seemed to be a too-close-for-comfort riff on Halloween.
This isn’t a recommendation to avoid, just an acknowledgement that A Wakefield Project didn’t catch my attention. I basically stopped watching at about the 20 minute mark.