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Review: ‘The Dark Red’ cannot square psychodrama with bloody revenge

Kelsey Scott, left, and April Billingsley in the movie ‘The Dark Red’
Kelsey Scott, left, and April Billingsley in the movie “The Dark Red.”
(Dark Sky Films)

When the supernatural suspense film “The Dark Red” begins, an institutionalized psychiatric patient named Sybil (played by April Billingsley) is having regular meetings with her therapist, Dr. Deluce (Kelsey Scott), where she describes the living hell that her life has been. Among other things, Sybil claims to have psychic powers, which she says drew the attention of a demonic cult, who kidnapped her and cut her unborn baby out of her belly.

Dr. Deluce counters with a realistic explanation for every detail of Sybil’s wild tale, and for a good long while — over an hour, in fact — “The Dark Red” plays like a low-key, flashback-heavy psychodrama, about the unreliability of memory and the stories we tell ourselves to explain away trauma.

But then director Dan Bush and his co-writer/co-producer Conal Byrne switch gears. The film’s final act follows Sybil after she leaves the hospital, as she tracks down her shady ex-boyfriend (played by Byrne) and seeks revenge.

Both parts of “The Dark Red” are hit-and-miss. The film’s premise is engaging, regardless of whether Bush and Byrne are using it as a foundation for a moody chamber piece or for a “Kill Bill”-esque thriller. But the movie suffers from its low budget, which makes its overall scope too limited to suit Sybil’s sprawling story.

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Mostly though, this picture just feels out of balance. The blood-soaked climactic standoff is fine, but not exciting or scary enough to justify an hour of slow-paced setup. “The Dark Red” needs less talk, more shock.

'The Dark Red'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

Playing: Starts March 6, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD


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