Dan Bush’s The Dark Red doesn’t have a flashy, big name cast. But that doesn’t stop it from being a delightful and smartly-realized thriller. The flick succeeds as well as it does, in no small part, due to fantastic performances from its core cast. April Billingsley (The Walking Dead) absolutely slays as lead character Sybil. Billingsley serves up a layered and dynamic performance that endears the audience to her almost instantly. She brings Sybil to life with a sense of fragility that suggests from the get go that she is damaged and broken by the series of profound tragedies she has endured.
Sybil believes she possesses a rare blood type that grants her certain superhuman capabilities. She in convinced she’s being hunted by a cult that wants what she possesses and believes they will pursue it at any cost. Her therapist, however, thinks that Sybil is delusional and suffering from an adverse reaction to trauma, as well as a variety of mental health issues.
You’ll have to watch the film to find out if Sybil’s concerns are real or a figment of her imagination. And watch it, you should. I really enjoyed this picture. The denouement is an utter delight and the action sequences are pulse-pounding.
My only real qualm is that the pacing in the first two acts is a bit up and down. But, in spite of that, Sybil’s relationship with Dr. Deluce (Kelsey Scott of Fear The Walking Dead) is authentic and watching the two of them interact as Sybil’s story unfolds carried me through the parts that felt a little slow. And in hindsight, the dialogue-heavy beginning to the film ultimately gives us a reason to buy into what Sybil is going through. It puts us in her frame of mind and sets up what’s to come in the finale. And let me tell you, the film’s third act really got my adrenaline pumping.
The screenplay (which was cowritten by director Dan Bush and Conal Byrne who plays Sybil’s boyfriend) makes a valiant attempt at keeping the viewer going back-and-forth about whether or not Sybil’s condition is real or a manifestation of mental illness. Logic dictates that we wouldn’t be watching a horror movie about a character whose condition is entirely imagined. But Bush and Byrne provide us with reason to consider both possibilities.
With that said, once we learn whether Sybil’s recollections are actual or imagined, things really get exciting. The film’s finale reminded me why I admire Dan Bush as a filmmaker. As he proved with 2007’s The Signal, he is able to deliver pulse-pounding and suspenseful action sequences along with complex and dynamic characters. The end result is a highly entertaining film with a satisfying conclusion.
As for the film’s home video release, my chief complaint is the lack of special features. I wanted to dive into the commentary track and hear what Dan Bush was thinking at pivotal moments in the picture. And I wanted to listen to April Billingsley talk about her tour de force performance in a featurette focused on her character. But unfortunately, the DVD is about as bare bones as they come. Lack of bonus content aside, I absolutely recommend checking this one out at your earliest convenience.
WICKED RATING: 7.5/10
Director(s): Dan Bush
Writer(s): Dan Bush and Conal Byrne
Stars: April Billingsley, Kelsey Scott, and Conal Byrne
Release: April 28, 2020 (Home Video)
Studio/ Production Co: Dark Sky Films