Sundance - Red (2008)


Imagine if Death Wish took place in a small mountain town, and the victim wasn't a wife or a daughter, but a scraggly ol' pooch. That's the basic plot of the strangely satisfying revenge thriller Red. Based on the (very good) novel by Jack Ketchum, it's a simple tale of how love and affection can sometimes inspire some of the nastiest human emotions imaginable. When does a demand for justice become a desperate craving for revenge? It's a simple but interesting question that screenwriter Stephen Susco (The Grudge) does a fine job of exploring.

The seriously excellent Brian Cox plays a perfectly affable (if somewhat melancholy) widower whose only companion is a sweet old dog named Red. But after a trio of despicable teenagers invade Avery's fishing spot -- and shoot the poor dog in the head with a shotgun -- our protagonist's miseries turn into a thirst for justice. He tracks the shotgun casing to an affluent family, but when the dog-killer's father (a wonderfully sleazy Tom Sizemore) refuses to punish his son, Avery decides to get the job done himself. To that end, he enlists a lawyer and a TV reporter to help his cause -- but all that does is make things worse.

Suffice to say that things quickly spiral out of control ... and it seems pretty obvious that things are not going to end peacefully. But Red is not one of those bloodthirsty "Ooh, go kill people!" sort of revenge thriller (although it does offer a little of that stuff); instead it's a surprisingly smart and impressively well-paced little film. Aside from the fantastic work from Cox and Sizemore, the film also boasts some very strong supporting turns from Richard Riehle (the
lawyer) and Kim Dickens (the reporter).

As the three nasty little antagonists, Noel Fisher, Kyle Gallner, and Shiloh Fernandez are also quite good -- although the regretful one (Gallner) does the best work with the toughest role. Toss in a few colorful appearances from the likes of Amanda Plummer, Robert Englund, and Ashley Laurence, and you've got the makings of a movie that the horror fans will almost definitely enjoy -- even if it's more of a dramatic thriller than a basic horror flick.

Co-directed by Norwegian filmmaker Trygve Diesen and the always-reliable Lucky McKee*, Red is not only a fine adaptation of a fascinating novel, but it makes for a tight-fisted and engrossing little movie in its own right. In the hands of lesser filmmakers, this would have been a dryly familiar story of anger and retribution, but between the contributions of Susco, Cox, and McKee, Red adds a surprising amount of color to an oft-told tale.

(* Early reports indicate that Lucky McKee was removed from the project just before shooting was finished. I mention this not to knock McKee (whose movies I generally love), but to give both directors fair credit. If, however, Mr. McKee directed more than 75% of the film, I'd argue that he deserves a little more credit himself.)