Savvas D. Michael’s Red Rage is as crazy as it sounds. A vigilante couple tear through their town’s drug underworld in a spell of murderous lust; the husband, Oscar (Jack Turner), claims the killings were inspired by a vision from God, while the wife, Ella (Fernanda Diniz), is uncontrollably aroused by her husband’s homicidal obsession.
The absurdities of Red Rage, however, always take precedence over meaningful drama, and they never quite fit into a narrative that feels coherent or fulfilled. Instead, we’re left with a gangster action-comedy flick that marshals a bit of each genre, without ever finding a marriage of all three that could convince us of its worth.
The film follows three plot-lines. The first concerns Oscar and Ella Knight, who are trying to rid the streets of Red Devil, a hyper-addictive substance that resembles smoked paprika in appearance. Despite its cartoonishly red hue, the drug has serious implications for the character, as we see while spending another third of our time following the pitiful pursuits of addict Riley (Jamie Crew), and his desperate attempts to locate the smallest bump of “red”. Thirdly, we laze around with Hugo (Ian Reddington), a lonely, well-intentioned weed dealer, and his cowboy friend.
Savvas D. Michael’s world is plunged in half-lit rooms and soaked in various neons. Consequently it can be easy on the eye; however, it never engages in the substantial world-building that would have elevated the potentially interesting strands of its plot. To its credit, it’s very clear what this film wants to be, but its lack of conviction leaves it somewhere between the dynamism of Guy Ritchie’s early work and the eccentricities of a Quentin Tarantino script, without fully rising to the heights of either.
That said, Red Rage is at least direct in its intentions. For instance, we are introduced to Oscar’s unpredictable and ignorant mother Elizabeth (Linda Marlowe) in an efficient opening scene that establishes the film’s idiosyncratic tone and provides enough exposition for the main drive of the plot. It’s funny, peculiar, disarmingly blunt with the information it’s clearly trying to feed us… and also in many ways unnecessary, because we never see Marlowe’s character again. In a lot of ways, it is a reflection of what follows in the next 90 minutes—the good as well as the bad.
Throughout Red Rage we are introduced to a zany web of ensemble characters, who for the most part are buoyed by entertaining performances—”Lazurus” (Steven Berkoff) and “Steve Dreamer” (Adam Deacon) are particular standouts—but, much like Elizabeth Knight, they all disappear into the murky and vague world that Michael has half-built. Dramatic tensions between characters are established, stumbled over, and often abandoned as Red Rage ploughs on with its flimsy central plot. It’s a shame, really, because those peripheral characters are fun, and the actors lean into the film’s farcical temperament with ease, but I couldn’t help but feel the film fizzle out as its backlog of wasted tangents piled up.
That said, there is still much to like about this strange, raucous flick. It’s colourful, energetic, at times imaginative, and it even surprises with its attempt to levy some depth and perception on its darker themes. These almost entirely involve Riley, which is where Red Rage is its most dramatically interesting due to both Crew’s committed turn as a troubled and impulsive drug addict, and the director’s willingness to dwell on some of the film’s quieter, more honest moments. Many viewers may sadly relate to Riley—alone, tormented by his crippling addiction to a destructive drug. Away from the film’s lust and violence, it’s a tragic story about a man suffering in a world that won’t care for him. Yet while interesting, this ends up as just another plotline that’s only given about half the attention it deserves.
Dazzling colour palettes and quirky monologues mask a film that is fundamentally unable to deliver a potent story. A lot of ideas float around Michael’s erratic comedy: temptation and weakness, the cycle of addiction and obsession, the price of loneliness. But nothing really sticks to the surface, and by the time the story reaches its messy conclusion, I was left feeling no more than slightly amused.
There is enough imagination running through Red Rage’s characters, ideas, and visuals to make it amount to a somewhat enjoyable experience. But ultimately, this film never recovers from its constantly uneven focus, and its inability to convincingly build the world its characters live in.
Words by Ben Faulkner
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