Red Velvet (2008)
Reviewed by Plagiarize
Starring Henry Thomas, Kelli Garner, Lateef Crowder, Eric Jungmann
Directed by Bruce Dickson
When a film has a name like Red Velvet, it gives you certain impressions right away. The poster appears to portray a scantily clad woman beneath a sheet of red velvet. Thoughts like "David Lynch rip-off" start to dance around your head. When the producer grabs your wife to get her picture taken with a guy dressed up in a strange bunny suit because she’s wearing a Suspiria T-shirt, then you start thinking that maybe it’s a Suspiria and David Lynch rip-off. Maybe with some shades of Donnie Darko. Well, not that any of that is going to happen to you, of course, unless you’re walking with your similarly dressed wife past the Red Velvet booth at a horror convention.
Look, usually I can’t stand the AICN approach to movie reviews where you preface them with all the stuff you did leading up to the film, but sometimes it’s worth conveying the frame of mind you were in when you watched a film.
I was distracted. Disinterested. Concerned that it would be too derogatory. But there we were in a hotel room around midnight, most of the Dread Central crew about to watch the film with producer Sean Fernald, who seemed like such a nice guy. And damn if he ever loved the project. I don’t think I can remember seeing anyone so enthusiastic about a film they’d been involved in before. So I was pretty sure that I’d have to sit through this film and then pretend to like it behind his back until we could get out of there.
Don’t get me wrong ... I love the same things he obviously does. Every film he name checked as we walked to the hotel room (after bumping into each other in the lift on the way up there) were all things I liked, but what I didn’t know is that he was trying to sell me on his film and that he didn’t know the kind of things that make me want to watch something.
So finally to the movie. I liked Red Velvet. I liked it a lot. I can’t wait to be able to own a copy for myself or, even better, see it on the big screen (which if there’s any justice I’ll get to do).
The film has a pretty simple concept. Aaron (Henry Thomas), who doesn’t much like the other people who live in the same apartment building as him, bumps into his neighbor Linda (Kelli Garner) in a launderette. She starts trying to talk to him but doesn’t get that he’s not interested in talking to her. He’s a little aggressive… a little abusive… but she takes his misogynistic demands as genuine invites, and before you know it, Aaron is telling Linda a story.
It’s a story of the weekend up at the cabin that she’s told him she can’t get to and a killer (Lateef Crowder) bumping the people that did make it there off one by one. They decide together what the killer should look like, and the film cuts back and forth between Aaron’s cabin story and Aaron and Linda’s conversations.
This structure gives everybody a lot of freedom to cut loose. The extreme comic book violence comes in the story segments, which are shot in a style that I’d call a note perfect homage to Suspiria and Creepshow ... but it’s not just homage for the sake of homage. An Eighties feel is layered into the story parts, not just in the direction and cinematography, but in the writing, music, and acting as well. While Red Velvet is telling a serious story, half of it is filtered through a cracked mind obsessed with Eighties horror.
It’s not straight homage either. The kills are anything but clichéd, with at least two that I’m sure will make anyone reading this laugh as much as we all did. There’s a deranged brilliance to the story’s killer from his pink toolbelt to his instant camera and rabbit ear speakers. It’s macabre, yes, but in such a ridiculously way as to feel inspired. The playful nature of the shifting story as Aaron has to go back and correct things as Linda tells him more about her friends also lends itself to some of the film’s best moments.
I feel that some of the people we saw the film with would have preferred it to be purely a spoof, and I’m sure that a lot of people who see the film will feel the same way… but if you have any love for films that don’t hand you all the answers and take their time saying what they need to, I’m sure you’d agree with me that the pacing of the film is just perfect.
The conversation scenes are fairly long and, in contrast to the over-the-top, colour drenched story sections, may be boring in comparison to some. However, take them out, and the film wouldn’t be as smart, it wouldn’t be nearly as unique, and the payoffs wouldn’t be so satisfying.
You see Red Velvet is a puzzle. One I’m sure has an answer ... and one I’m sure has all the pieces there if they can only be fit together properly. The big part of that puzzle is working out who Aaron is and whether or not there’s any truth buried in his ever changing story. The substance of the film is in those scenes between Aaron and Linda. The depth and the drama is in those scenes, and there’s a lot more going on than is initially apparent. At first you’ll probably just want Linda to shut up, but it’s a bit more cleverly crafted than first glances may suggest. Writers Anthony Burns and Joe Moe aren’t just filling out the film with these moments, and while they may make some people a little impatient, watching Aaron carefully manipulating the situation is as much a credit to them as Henry Thomas’ performance.
Henry Thomas yet again proves to be one of those hidden gems. Most child actors don’t grow up to be anything special, but as in Dead Birds, Henry Thomas shows that he’s really got what it takes if people would just pay attention to him. The strength of his performance is almost to the detriment of the film, highlighting as it does weaknesses in Kelli Garner’s performance. Overall Kelli does an adequate job with the type of thankless annoying straight character her role necessitates, but there are a couple of moments where she comes across as overly wooden, and next to Henry Thomas it just looks even worse. Everyone else gets to have much more fun as characters in Henry’s stories, free to cut loose and be as over-the-top as they want. Deserving special plaudits is Lateef Crowder as our rabbit-eared masked psycho, who is surprisingly good, adding comedy with surprising body language and movements.
There are one or two moments where the film’s creative camera work seems to be being flashy just for the sake of being flashy (not in the story sequences… it fits perfectly in those), but director Bruce Dickson has done really well considering Red Velvet is his directorial debut and could well be one to watch going forward.
Red Velvet is deranged and inspired in equal measures, sometimes both at the same time, and Sean Fernald is right to be proud of the film he’s produced. Sure, it may not be for everyone, and there will always be those that wish it was more of a straight spoof than an open-ended puzzle. But I know there’s a wider audience just waiting to appreciate Red Velvet, and I hope they get the chance to check it out.
4 1/2 out of 5
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