The Red Man 2016
A successful DJ living in a trendy apartment building learns his psychiatrist and new neighbor may be involved in a secret society plot drugging and killing fellow celebrity tenants.
25 October 2016 (USA)
Daniel Faraldo, Michael O'Neal, Lindsey Naves
It’s tinfoil hat time, people. The Red Man jumps right off the deep end into surreal, conspiracy theory fiction, and it is one hell of a ride. Not all the pieces fit together, and the performances are frustratingly uneven. But for an ambitious, indie horror flick that so desperately wants its audience to drink the kool aid, I’m happy to say The Red Man has gained another acolyte.
Set in the drug-addled club scene, The Red Man follows a celebrity DJ named Evan Gough, (Daniel David Diamond). Plagued by recurring nightmares of the murder of his family during a home invasion, Evan seeks psychological help from the eminent Dr. Verde, (Daniel Faraldo). But the good doctor may not be all he seems, a suspicion posed to Evan by Dr. Verde’s assistant Eve, (Lindsey Naves). Unsure of who to trust, Evan risks his life to uncover the truth. It involves a weird drug, lots of old guys in robes, and a killer dildo. If all that sounds silly to you, at least it isn’t boring.
The subject matter is absurdly pulpy, but the approach is studied, similar to Carpenter’s Escape from New York or David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. Understanding his limited resources, writer-director Jimmie Gonzalez crafts a sly B-movie. He employs the right amount of restraint, with just a pinch of batshit crazy. Doppelgängers are a recurring theme, with both references to Denis Villeneuve’s film Enemy and Dostoevsky’s The Double. They didn’t have deadly dildos.
At the center of the craziness is Daniel David Diamond’s performance as Evan. With a look eerily similar to Vin Diesel, Diamond never quite feels natural with the pseudo-intellectual lines he has to say. Freud and Carl Jung are quoted casually in practically every scene, which doesn’t make a lick of sense. Until you realize it’s not supposed to. Like most epiphanies on a shrink’s couch, the story is an experiment in dream interpretation. A meathead, gymrat like Evan shouldn’t be obsessed with the collective unconscious. But maybe Evan isn’t the man he thinks he is. Maybe this isn’t his life at all. When has anything ever made sense in a dream?
What really draws us in is Diamond’s anguish over his dead family. New and disturbing evidence comes to light about the home invasion, and Diamond’s vulnerability is completely believable. Evan might be losing his mind. Diamond commits one hundred percent to that breakdown. Without him, this movie might have been very different. He is the anchor, the one who carries us through all the bizarre and increasingly ridiculous plot turns.
The movie is tremendously mean spirited, but horror films aren’t supposed to play nice. They are supposed to be cathartic, a wake-up call, like ice chips to a boxer’s face. But is the violence, (a great deal of it against women), justified? In this case, I would say it is. Evan is not a willing participant. He is a brainwashed drone, forced by a systemic misogyny to do things he opposes. In that sense, he is also a victim of rape. And thankfully, those scenes are tastefully handled.
Daniel Faraldo as Dr. Verde is a bit of a mixed bag. In the second half, he really shines in full mad-scientist mode. You can tell he really relished those scenes, those lines. He is animated and funny, and the mania works. Too bad the more subdued moments come off totally stiff, as if Faraldo can’t figure out how to “naturalize” his performance. It’s sadly a bit of a distraction.
Lindsey Naves as Eve is wonderfully offbeat and charming. There is a genuine chemistry between her and Diamond. As she provides details about the secret society that may be behind all the nefarious deeds, Naves navigates the exposition-heavy dialogue like a champ. My only wish is that they had developed her subplot more. Eve was so interesting, it’s a shame the story drops her character so quickly. She is ultimately reduced to a damsel in distress, which is such a predictable turn for a strong female character.
Unfortunately, it all falls apart at the end. It’s not that the resolution doesn’t make thematic sense. It most certainly does, but the execution is far too haphazard to truly be effective. I would have preferred a simpler conclusion, one not so obvious in its metaphor. It doesn’t help that the previously skillful direction peters out into laziness. Long takes go on longer than they should. It feels like there simply weren’t any close-ups to cut to. The last sequence devolves into choppy slow motion, like a Lifetime movie from the nineties. It’s a “fix it in post” mentality that should’ve been avoided, just because of how chintzy it looks.
The Red Man is worth a look though, especially if you’re in a “fire and brimstone” kind of mood. Hey, it happens. The film is currently on DVD/VOD.