Review: Red Kingdom Rising (TBC) / Director: Navin Dev / Screenplay: Navin Dev / Starring: Emily Stride, Silvana Maimone, David Caron, Etalia Turnbull / Release date: TBC
Mary Ann (Stride) is a troubled soul who has been suffering from chilling nightmares since childhood. No matter what she does, she can’t shake the sinister dreams of bloody torture at the hands of a gruesome man in a red cloak. Finally, in the desperate hope of ridding herself of these dreams once and for all (and following the death of her father), she returns to her childhood home.
What she finds there isn’t quite the warm welcome she’d hoped for. The house is ominously quiet and her mother appears even more unhinged than usual. On top of it all, her nightmares have become waking dreams, seeping into the cracks of her psyche, making the unreal real.
The chief cause of her unease appears to centre on her father reading Alice in Wonderland to her as a child, away from the prying eyes of her heavily Christian mother. It’s here that the concept of the Red King emerges, seemingly having escaped from the pages of the book, bringing with it a ghostly faceless Alice to help guide Mary Ann through her cerebral labyrinth.
Red Kingdom Rises looks good on paper, taking its cue from the recent attempts at turning children’s fables into more dark matter. But the symbiosis of this and the Nightmare on Elm Street style boogeyman aspect is an uncomfortable blend. If anything, the theatrical Red King steals any real dramatic tension from the underlying subtext surrounding Mary Ann’s internal struggle.
Unfortunately, this is far from the only problems facing this production. The concept of someone returning home to face their demons is a much overused horror cliché, and usually only means one thing: resolution of latent memories. Alas, this is no different, and while Red Kingdom Rises tries its best to wow you with clever twists towards the end, the audience is already a good act or two ahead of the game.
In fact there is really little imagination on display here (beyond the conceit of darkening Lewis Caroll’s best loved book). The sparse dialogue is often leaden, the cinematography – while professional – is devoid of invention and the performances from the principal cast are little more than passable.
Since arriving on the horror scene, writer/director Navin Dev has made somewhat of a habit of making horror films derived from fairy tales. His first short film Red Hood garnered enough praise for him to continue the theme with The Tree Man (based on The Adventures of Pinocchio). Running at just 73 minutes, this only just passes as his feature debut, but if this proves anything, it’s that Dev needs to work a little harder at fleshing a core concept out into an ethralling full feature.
Had this stayed away from the desire to please the gore hound crowd, it would have faired much better, but as it stands this is an awkward and frustratingly predictable example of why independent British horror is far too often miss rather than hit.