2008 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE! “You wouldn’t understand.” Says the brother of the boy who killed Avery’s dog Red.
“Suppose you make me understand?” Av’ says.
That, in a nutshell, is what drives the plot in “Red”, the latest adaptation of a Jack Ketchum novel. After his dog Red is killed for no reason by the leader of three teenage goons, Avery Ludlow simply cannot wrap his head around why the kid did it, or why he laughed while he did it, or why he doesn’t care one bit about the incident afterwards. The kid’s brother, not as goonish as the other two in the gang, seems to care, but not the shooter himself, not the guy who actually pulled the trigger. What was a soul destroying moment for Avery is a non-event to the shooter, barely worth thinking about. Avery doesn’t want to sue for money or prosecute for jail time. Instead he wants the kid to genuinely show remorse.
Wait a minute. I’m making this sound good aren’t I? Sorry for the confusion, because it isn’t good. In fact, it’s jaw-droppingly bad.
This movie has a humungous amount of problems, but I think that its absolute worst sin is that it’ll make you think that the Jack Ketchum novel is some sort of Oprah’s book of the month reject. I haven’t read it, but I know of Ketchum’s work and I very strongly doubt that the book is as sappy as the movie.
Christ, does it lay it on thick. The music is the worst offender, the credits hadn’t even finished rolling and already I was grinding my teeth into stumps to its generic notes. It’s one of those soundtracks that make it a point to follow the action, so when we see Avery get up in the morning to deliver groceries from his general store accompanied by his trusty old dog Red, it’s all happy s**t. When he’s sitting by the lake fishing in contentment, it’s quiet relaxing s**t. And when the kids arrive it turns into ominous, somber… s**t.
I was expecting this to be depressing and demoralizing to watch, but it’s too damn “Made for TV” movie to be anything but lame. It keeps telling us how terrible this all is, as if a sane audience couldn’t figure that out by themselves. Brian Cox is great and the kids who play the three goons are very good, but that’s not enough. They’re trapped in a friggin’ soap opera and they can’t get out.
Another problem is that the film has too many recognizable faces. You have Tom Sizemore and Ashley Laurence as the parents of the two brothers and Robert Englund and Amanda Plummer as the parents of the third kid. Of those four, only Sizemore has anything resembling a part. So you do like I did and go “Look, it’s Kirsty from Hellraiser! Look! It’s Freddy! Look! It’s General Chang’s daughter!” You don’t see them as characters, but as actors playing a part. It’s distracting.
Then there’s simply the fact that I’m sick and tired of movies about the Crazymixedupkid archetype. From Brando and Dean onward, cinema has had a fascination with both fake and real life bad boys that borders on the homoerotic. It keeps asking “Why did he do it?” as if there’s any answer. It tosses out bad homes, bad upbringing, and childhood trauma as likely culprits, but really that’s a rationalization after the fact rather than an explanation. Wanna know why these kids do whatever horrific thing it is that they do? Shall we solve this mystery right now so that we can put it to rest finally? I’ll tell you.
That’s it. That’s the best and most truthful reason you’ll ever get. When a 16 year old boy caves in some homeless guy’s head with a brick he doesn’t have a reason. There’s no deeper motive than: “There was a brick and the guy was sleeping nearby.” Kids don’t think ahead, they feel entitled to anything they want anytime they want and have no impulse control. So if they’re f*****g stupid and violent to boot, you’re occasionally going to see one flip the f**k out and kill someone. And all that psychological counseling bullshit isn’t going to work because a lot of these kids will just find a way to fake being normal around the shrink and be little a******s the minute nobody is watching. Here’s an example of the almost Orwellian doublethink present in a teen’s mind: A bully will f*****g cry in rage, genuine tears of fury, at getting beat up because of the unfairness of it all. He seriously and honestly thinks that he should be able to beat the s**t out of anyone he feels like, but that no one should ever hit back. He sees no hypocrisy or contradiction in this. None. Imagine, if a 30 year old instead of a 13 year old thought that way. They’d be locked up.
Kids don’t shoot up schools because they’re mad at someone or because of some real or perceived slight. They shoot up schools because it seemed like a good idea at the time. They have no more logical thought for their actions than a rabid dog has when he bites you. They think “Everything is allowed for me, nothing for anyone else.” It’s simplicity itself.
Getting back to “Red,” it’s this total absence of thought behind actions of disgusting cruelty that Avery can’t understand. He wants the kid to suddenly see what he’s done through the eyes of a sixty-four year old man. But the kid is sixteen, and that’s never going to happen, and Avery’s obsession at getting real justice is on a collision course with a bully’s natural sense of offense at having someone question behavior that he feels perfectly entitled to.
So you know this ain’t gonna end too well.
The film, for all my bitching, is okay. Not great, but okay. If this was a TV movie made in 1989 it may have been thought of as ahead of it’s time or a hidden cult gem. As it stands now it’s a bit too bland and doesn’t really seem to have a point or a reason to be. It basically just saunters along and goes “Hey look! And old guy’s dog is killed and now he’s mad. Whoa!” without having anything more to add. Sure Cox’s character is fully fleshed out with a back story that completely explains his motivation at wanting to punish the boy who killed his dog and maybe save the kid’s brother in the process, but the whole affair feels too tepid. It doesn’t present itself in an engaging manner. It just sort of throws stuff out blindly and hopes you’ll react to it. It’s the difference between an art gallery where all the paintings are set up for maximum effect versus them just being duct taped to a blank wall.
I don’t know. Lucky McKee can’t be totally blamed because the film was taken away from him and re-directed later by Trygve Allister Diesen. For all I know this may be a case where the original work was too dark and grim, so the studio decided to soften it up and water it down. Would be interesting to see how the original McKee cut stands up to this. Hopefully, it’ll do better than this piece of crap.