Imagine living through something hideous and crazy…and knowing that no one would ever believe you if you told anyone.
In Dan Bush’s new film THE DARK RED, a young woman finds herself trapped in a psychiatric hospital after her newborn baby is kidnapped by a cult. Restless and desperate, she must convince the doctor on her case that she didn’t imagine the whole thing to cope with a stillbirth—no easy feat, given that she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in the past.
THE DARK RED had so much potential as a psychological thriller. Unfortunately, the movie fell flat.
The protagonist, Sybil (played by April Billingsley), acknowledges throughout the film that she struggles with mental illness—most notably schizophrenia. She also admits to her lover, David (Conal Byrne, who also co-wrote the script), that she has psionic abilities. David’s parents (and David, by extension) belong to a cult that values the blood of people with such gifts; they hold a pregnant Sybil hostage and steal her baby for its blood. Sybil escapes and is assisted by a doctor (played by Bernard Setaro Clark) who knows her, knew her adoptive mother, and has made it his life’s mission to keep her safe—even if it means committing her to a psych ward.
While this could make for an intense and engaging plot, the problem lies in the fact that the audience is never given the space to doubt Sybil’s story. Everything is straightforward and clear from the start. There’s no mystery; no inconsistency that would make us wonder if Sybil is an unreliable narrator, even with her mental health issues. During the entire hour-and-forty-five-minute run, I was waiting for a plot twist that never came.
THE DARK RED seems to borrow plot elements from classics like Firestarter and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but even the familiar tropes aren’t enough to save the film. Even the telepathic/ psychic protagonist’s name is a sticking point— ‘Sybil’ is way too on the nose to be taken seriously.
Although the narrative style, dialogue, and plot could have been rewritten and reconstructed, the cinematography and special effects are well executed. THE DARK RED arrives in theaters and digital on March 6th.