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“Red Pill” is a politically-charged dark comedy that attempts to cleverly reflect the horrors of a nation deeply divided. Does it succeed?

RED PILL is now available to rent on several VOD platforms. Read on to find out if you should Rent it, Stream it, or Skip it.

When you’re doing a low-budget horror film, it definitely helps when some of your talent is recognizable to genre fans. In the case of Red Pill (2021), director and lead actress Tonya Pinkins (Fear the Walking Dead), Kathyrn Erbe (Stir of Echoes), and Rubén Blades (also Fear the Walking Dead) are a welcome sight in what can be best described as a political film that tries very hard to be a horror movie — or at least a dark comedy.

A white woman (Erbe), a wisecracking Jewish guy (Jake O’Flaherty), a man of African descent (Adesola A. Osakalumi), a Russian woman (Luba Mason), an African American woman (Pinkins), and a Hispanic ex-pat (Blades) take a trip together to Virginia on Halloween to “get away from the 2020 election”.

Diverse cast? Check.

Let’s just skip the opening segment, a subplot which could have been removed from the film entirely and made little or no difference, and focus on the next several minutes after that – a very uncomfortable SUV ride that first introduces us to characters we are likely to care less and less about as the film progresses.

Unlikable characters? Check.

What’s wrong with these characters, you may ask? They are shallow, self-centered, and have no chemistry with each other. The “frolicking interactions” they are directed to have seem forced. And the little comments and philosophies they share with each other at random seem to come from out of nowhere and serve little purpose other than to invite the viewer to judge each character along with the others.

Further, their back-stories seem either contrived or non-existent.

These are caricatures, not characters.

Having just returned from a vacation in Virginia in October, I can say with some confidence that there is no openly racist signage dotting the landscape, nor are there segments of the “Old Dominion” that are teeming with “Karens” who wish slavery was still a thing.

But, even if there were, it is unlikely they would be as hokey, open, and unintelligent as the “Red Pill Cult” that waits to besiege our protagonists till well after the halfway mark.

That wait would be fine if there were enough slow-burning going on to make the eventual confrontation worth it. But while definitely slow, it seems the filmmakers chose to save most of the burning for the Jewish character in a bit of misguided symbolism well after the viewer stops caring.

There is definitely some irreverent comedy, but it’s played so cryptically that the viewer can’t know whether they are in on the joke or not without risking entertaining the same shallowness as the lead characters.

As we are introduced…again…extremely…slowly…to the titular cult in question, we see a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affirmation that does less to tell us about the cult than it does to let us in on just how a certain segment of society is viewed by the writer/director.

Red Pill Women To-Do’s (sic):

  1. I will speak when spoken to.
  2. I will put on make-up every day.
  3. I will keep a clean house.
  4. I am a negative asset.
  5. I am a leaf in the wind.

So of course, the real villain is the patriarchy and organized religion.

(One of the characters actually says the words, “The Catholic Church was founded on a lie,” while others unironically bemoan the evil of “women who hate women”.)

If those are your personal views, that white women are closer to being slaveholders than a minority themselves, and that organized religion is a lie, then more power to you. There are plenty of films that explore racism and the failures of organized religion to great effect. Red Pill is just not one of them.

In the second “Nilbog is Goblin spelled backwards!” moment I’ve sat through this month, the terrible and lazily-written ending reminded me of why I didn’t care for the director’s performance in Fear the Walking Dead.

There is a decided lack of nuance, quite a bit of manic anger, and this sense that presenting largely symbolic groups of people as funny in spite of themselves qualifies your work as “dark comedy”. What also hurts Red Pill is the poor special effects which include some truly awful CGI blood spatter and some even worse “burning man” FX that look like they came straight out of an X-Box 360.

RENT IT, STREAM IT, OR SKIP IT?
STREAM IT. In full disclosure, I’m not the best target audience for this film. I do think, if the political message speaks to you, this film may resonate with you more than it did with me. If you get the chance to see it on a streaming network in the near future, give it a shot. In the meantime, if you want to see an African-American woman director nail not only horror but political commentary, check out 2021’s Candyman sequel directed by the brilliant and uncompromising Nia DaCosta who proves that social justice issues can be explored head-on and to great effect in a horror vehicle without devolving into overly simplistic and ultimately shallow politics.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies)

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