Courtesy Midnight Releasing

Inspired by Jordan Peele’s Get Out, stage, film, and television star Tonya Pinkins decided to create her own version of the story and entitled her award-winning movie, RED PILL. The Red Pill, not related to the Matrix or party drugs, refers to a person who infiltrates a rival group with the intention of damaging them and bringing them down from the inside.

RED PILL goes extreme, and it goes extreme quickly. A peaceful drone shot of a beautiful woodsy fall setting immediately becomes interrupted with painful screams. The outside perspective zooms into a cabin where a ritualistic performance sees a very pregnant black woman being held down by a group of faceless white women all dressed in red. Several images synonymous with brutal racism flash across the screen as we see a weeping black man with a noose around his neck, and the painful branding of the pregnant woman.

The cold opening gives us a brief glimpse into the future before cinematographer John Hudak Jr. returns us to the sprawling woodlands of Virginia. Weaving through the orange and red trees, we see a brightly colored SUV filled with a diverse group of adult friends. The beginning hints heavily at creepiness to come, but the first forty minutes or so revolves around establishing the bonds between the six main characters and their political beliefs. In the vehicle, they talk politics and American history, and while the conversation touches on heated conversations, they all demonstrate respect for each other and remain civil. The group works as canvassers for a progressive political party and plan on promoting their candidate in the hopes of recruiting more voters.

Courtesy Midnight Releasing

When arriving in town, the SUV passes several houses, all with a white woman standing stiffly in the front yard. Each one dresses identical to the next with an all-black outfit and a mysterious red symbol across their chest. An odd sight indeed, but the members of the SUV focus more on settling into their Airbnb and adjusting the feng shui of the place. During dinner, the six friends connect over jokes and songs and the natural camaraderie between the cast makes you love their friendships and almost forgive the clumsy dialogue and performances. Opposite the fun-loving moments of the progressives,  we also witness a bunch of urine-drinking Karens who live their oblivious lives, assuming life will never change and always be in their favor. The Karen has become a much more prominent villain in horror tv and film in the last couple of years, with the Betty Wendell character in the Amazon show Them and even the very cringy movie Karen released earlier this year.

While driving to the Airbnb, the SUV filled with Jews, black people, and immigrants passes a sign demanding Jews, blacks, and ‘imigrants’ stay out. That should have been enough to make the SUV speed on through, but unfortunately, this sign serves as only the first warning. Upon arriving at the Airbnb, they find creepy dolls in the walls, haunting animal paintings that spy on the guests, and a noose in the garage. The house holds enough red flags the group could make a bouquet out of them. Yet the group enjoys each other’s company so much all the strangeness becomes quickly explained away and forgotten.

The aptly named Cassandra, played by the multi-talented Tonya Pinkins, experiences bad dreams and fears the upcoming 2020 election to the point she hopes to leave the country before the results are announced. But, just like the Cassandra of Greek myth, no one believes or even listens to her. A lot of frustration will emanate from the audience as all the characters ignore warning after warning and continue to just play the guitar and shrug off every strange occurrence.

The dream sequences and the heavy-handed political commentaries seem unnecessary and do not possess the nuances of Peele’s work. Even The Hunt from last year found a better mix of political commentary, horror, and satire. However, I am not ruling out Pinkins. She does well with creating a creepy, cultish atmosphere and using historical trauma as horrific imagery. She definitely has the vision. She just needs to work on her nuances. Pinkins took some big risks with making a horror film starring only Boomers and some heavy political commentary, but her debut in the genre shows signs for more promising scripts from her.

RED PILL is now available on Digital from Midnight Releasing.

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