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The 1 to 5 on movies: Red Dot

This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all movies, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.

Red Dot is a Swedish movie, co-written and directed by Alain Darborg, and stars Nanna Blondell and Anastasios Soulis, about a romantic retreat turned nightmare for a couple (Nadja and David) who just found out they are expecting their first child. This is another movie that fits the Netflix mold: It was available and probably cheap to acquire, so they did. Sometimes (like The Ritual, which was good and got a lot of praise from critics) this works out well for Netflix, but most of the time (just a random example out of the dozens I can name being The Paramedic) they are bad or not worthwhile; unfortunately, Red Dot falls in the latter category. I wouldn’t necessarily call it bad on my scale, but MEH seems more fitting for its level of quality. There are some decent aspects here and there, like the acting and a thankfully brisk pace, but the bad writing, the obvious twists that offer nothing new or recontextualize anything of significance, the laughable attempts at moving the plot forward through ex-machina moments, and using off-screen information to deliver the most important twists, made this movie a waste of time and a poorly executed thriller.

Before I get into why I didn’t like the movie, I just want to call out some of the positives, which are mainly attributed to the actors. Both leads give decent enough performances and work well within the confines of their characters; when certain aspects of their characters are revealed later on, the problem is not that I didn’t believe they could do this, which only works when the actors do a good enough job conveying their characters’ darkest aspects. They are also very subtle about it, but when they need to be over-the-top, they manage to ride a fine line of being believably terrified and trying to remain calm to survive this ordeal. As far as the pace goes, the movie is 86 minutes long but it covers a lot of ground in that time and it never feels like it is skipping over stuff or not taking enough time on important situations. That’s about it for positives and I should warn you that from here on, I will be discussing the negatives with spoilers, mostly because I don’t think you should see this movie and also, if you want a brief overview without spoilers, that’s what the opening paragraph is – there’s nothing more to add. Also the following came out very long and as kind of a rant, so if you do want to read it just get comfortable!

My biggest problem with the movie is how it was edited and shown as a final product. The movie is about a couple camping in the wilderness when a red dot starts appearing in their camp and someone starts shooting at them; this being the Swedish wilderness, there’s no one around to help them, so they have to survive and get to safety. The set-up asks 3 main questions: Will they survive; Who is doing this; why are they doing this. None of these questions are answered in a satisfactory way, because the movie feels like it is specifically omitting vital information, only to show them later and “surprise” you then. Some of these moments would have worked in other movies of better overall quality; for example, the opening of the movie shows David proposing to Nadja and on their way back, they say something like “this is a new beginning” only to cut to a year and a half later in their apartment where they are fighting about something. This creates the Kuleshov effect of the couple not withstanding the test of time or maybe rushing into a decision that they are now struggling with. In reality, as they were driving back, they ran over a kid and left him there dead, and never told anyone about it, which is where the conflict rises from and how the movie adds substance to seemingly inconsequential dialogue like Nadja accusing David of always running off; these moments could have worked if the movie hadn’t become comical or outright bad in trying to pull off huge TWISTS to support them.

A particularly bad example of this is how the movie treats the reveal of the villain, but first since I referenced the second most-well known Russian scholar/filmmaker effect, lets talk about the most well-known one: Chekhov’s gun, which suggests that every element in the story should be necessary and come into play, otherwise it should be removed. At a basic level, the movie shows us 7 characters of which two are the protagonists, and the other 4 are so blatantly red hearings that the only way to make it more obvious to the audience is to make them wear “I am a red-hearing” t-shirts. Literally, our introduction to the first two characters is at a gas-stop, where one makes sexually suggestive comments on Nadja, obsessively pets the couple’s dog, and carries a severed dear head on his truck with blood leaking out and throw guns in there for good measure. Another example is the hotel owner of the place they are staying at, being creepy for two full minutes in the most obvious way possible. I don’t necessarily mind that as a writing technique, but when it leaves two characters of which one is the caring neighbor and the other being the hotel employee who wouldn’t talk to the couple, then there isn’t much mystery on who of the established characters is the most likely culprit. So, when the bleeding and injured couple stumble into the owner’s cabin seeking help and he calls someone else besides the police, the movie really expected me to be surprised that it was the caring neighbor all along! That is not bad writing but making that reveal (which makes no sense up to that point), only to stop the movie and explain why for 10 minutes, where we are shown the couple running over a kid and leaving, the neighbor being his dad (this was set up before) and at the time flying a drone that his kid runs on the street to follow, having footage that clearly shows the couple doing this and not showing it to the police, but instead renting an apartment across from them and stalking them for one and a half year, before deciding to gift them a holiday on his brother-in-law’s hotel in the wilderness and taking them there to shoot them. Oh, and by the way, Thomas (the neighbor) has now become Jigsaw and is asking David to drill into Nadja’s belly and kill their baby (but maybe not Nadja) or he’ll just shoot them both.

If by this point you are still on board for some reason, the next scene is surely to lose you; while in the wilderness, the two creepy dear hunters show up again and die, because the couple don’t really stop to ask them (or consider the fact that they are both clearly surprised to see them there) if they are hunting them and kill them anyway, but one survives because he was shot with a flare. So, at the point David is about to drill into Nadja’s belly, when the second dude waltz in the cabin, rifle raised, and starts asking the couple why have they shot him with a flare, seemingly oblivious to the torture-porn scene he just stopped, gets shot and then he shoots the hotel owner, in a scene that can be seen without context and easily sold as a parody. And, if that wasn’t enough to make you pull your hair out, then the ending is all about David remembering he got shot at some point and not being able to go on (whatever it’s a movie, I’m not really trying to poke holes at logic here) and staying behind to ensure Nadja gets away – which would have worked fine, as its basically David who refuses to turn himself in and would have been a nice moment to end on, since this is him not running away from what he deserves in order for his family to survive – but, she decides to get a gun and turn back, only to be shot in the head by Thomas’s wife (who obviously was the hotel clerk from before) who decides to show up carrying a gun; the end is David being left alive mirroring the harrowing reality of Thomas and wife had to go through after their son died.

There are so many little things I left out that add to the frustration that is this movie, but I’ll give you an example of the movie trying to be smarter than it actually is. At the start, when David and Nadja are at their apartment, David is playing Battlefield, which ridiculously enough comes into play later when the couple is getting shot at in the wilderness. David says he recognized the guns from Battlefield and it takes that specific model 10 seconds to reload, which I can imagine was a ‘high-five’ moment for writers as they not only made the game David was playing relevant, but also found a way to explain how David knows the time it takes for the gun to reload; in practice it is a stupid moment calling out itself for how dumb it is. I’m not gonna get into the logistics of the question (again, I don’t care about logic, I’m not CinemaSins), but since the scene ends with David getting shot anyway, why not have him show some intelligence by counting the time it takes to reload the gun between every shot, or have them try something stupid to fail miserably as a way to show how over their head the current situations is for them, and how high the stakes are; instead all I could think about was why overcomplicate a simple scene like that, and which Battlefield was David playing? Was it 4, Hardline, or one of the historic ones and the two deer hunter, sociopath, buddies are carrying around historic antiquates with severed deer heads in the back of their pick-up truck?

Anyway, rant over; I’m genuinely not really upset at the movie, but I struggle to see how these decisions were made and what the movie (even at its best) had to offer. Beyond that, its another MEH movie from Netflix and I wouldn’t recommend it, even if you only have 90 minutes available, there are so many other movies and series within that timeframe that are more worthwhile than this.

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