By Mark Bell | April 28, 2014

With esteemed psychiatrist Dr. Nathan Shellner’s (Judd Hirsch) health failing him in rapid fashion, his family comes together to spend time with him before it is too late. Unfortunately, the happy reunion that Dr. Shellner and his wife (Caroline Lagerfelt) hoped for is derailed when adopted son, a successful horror writer, Tommy (Ryan O’Nan), begins spouting unhinged conspiracy theories about he and his other adopted siblings, Julie (Jaime Ray Newman) and Harry (C.S. Lee), being the unsuspecting test subjects for a series of psychological experiments conducted by dear old Dad and his associates. As you can imagine, the accusations go over like a lead balloon, especially with biological son Leonard (Joseph Lyle Taylor).

While Tommy’s rantings and erratic behavior initially seem too fantastical to be believed, soon Harry is coming clean about difficulties with his own life and memories, and Julie eventually follows suit; there’s no denying that something untoward is going on in this family, but could it really be a case of a deranged psychiatrist adopting children just to conduct experiments on them at home?

Michael Z. Wechsler’s The Red Robin delivers a quality mystery; a psychological thriller hidden within the trappings of familial drama. It’s a walk down a long closet full of unexpected skeletons, though not necessarily on point with Tommy’s theoretical musings on the nature of his family. The truth is something darker, though simultaneously borne from a place of love.

So, yeah, there’s a lot going on with this one, which makes it all the more impressive when you consider that the majority of this film is a group of people in a single location talking about their past. While the film certainly employs cinematic tricks, such as flashbacks, it’s still a film that lives on the strength of its acting and interactions. It’d be real easy for this film to explode into scene-chewing melodrama or, the other extreme, undersold boredom, but it maintains a proper balance that takes advantage of the film’s consistent tone of mystery and steady pace forward.

The result is an experience that remains intriguing throughout. You never feel like you’re that off course with what’s happening as to get confused and disinterested, and the film doesn’t make it a habit of revealing its cards too early so that you find it too predictable. Again, balance. Whether you wind up liking where the film eventually takes you, it’s hard not to get caught up in the journey there.

There was one minor element that irked me, however, and I’m still trying to figure out if I missed something. Early on in the film, it is mentioned that the Shellners had six children, five that were adopted. For whatever reason, I immediately made note of that moment. Thing is, there’s only four siblings in the film. Reading the press kit after watching the film, it also mentions a total of five adopted children in the family, but only ever names the three adoptees we see in the movie. So, are there two other kids out there? Did I miss a line of dialogue explaining why only four of them are visiting with their dying father? And if we’re only going to ever see or hear from four total kids, do we need to know there were six? (Editor’s Note: The filmmaker has addressed this concern in the comments below, explaining the situation.)

Okay, so none of that really ruins the experience of watching the film, but it’s like seeing a boom pole sneak in from the top of the frame; once your brain makes a note of something, it’s hard to let it go. In this sense, I kept wondering when I was going to hear about the other two siblings. Again, does it totally disrupt the film? No… but it certainly made me nuts for a short time.

But I digress. In the end, this is a solid psychological thriller that keeps you guessing, with more than a few tricks up its sleeves to make for some arresting emotional or physical responses. While the film eventually explains itself beyond most ambiguities, the resolutions offered up do not disappoint.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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  1. Mark,

    Thank you for your kind words about THE RED ROBIN. You have also revealed to me something I wasn’t aware of….which will certainly interest you and answer your question about the 5 adopted kids.

    There were 2 major roles that were cut out of the film (believe it or not) 2 little kids that Nathaniel adopted. While they were interesting parts, they caused more questions and ultimately had a different feel tonally….but they were only cut out after a few major festival rejected us and we realized that they weren’t helping us tell best possible story. So I did make the change in the ADR and have Leonard in most recent cut saying “Adopted 3 children” and I mistakenly thought that this version had the new ADR. So THANK YOU! That would definitely throw me off and not in a good way


    Mike Wechsler
    The Red Robin

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