Red Dot

Red Dot (2021)
★★ / ★★★★

Pieces fall into place so neatly. We are introduced to a young couple, David (Anastasios Soulis), a recently minted engineer, and Nadja (Nanna Blondell), an aspiring doctor. We meet them at the former’s graduation when the relationship is fresh, fun, and exciting; they cannot get enough of one another. Suddenly, we are met with a title card stating that a year-and-half had passed. The relationship has strained—marriage is not what they imagined it to be. For a while, the movie appears to be a romantic drama. We learn about a little bit about David and Nadja’s home life and why they feel the need to get away and rekindle what they have. We spend only a short time in their apartment and we cannot help but to feel suffocated, too. However, “Red Dot” is not a drama. It is a survival thriller set in the cold and bitter wilderness with an ace up its sleeve.

The film is written by Alain Darborg (who directs) and Per Dickson, a duo of expert manipulators. By providing an expository sequence so ordinary, we are lulled to sway along a certain rhythm and by the time the rising action comes around, we are nailed into a specific wavelength. Consider the drive up the mountains when David and Nadja stop at a gas station and encounter two hunters. We are not provided much regarding the strangers: they have rifles, they look provincial, and they drive a truck with a reindeer’s head in the back. One of the hunter’s sense of humor is rather… uncultured, somewhat offensive, as if David and Nadja needed to be reminded that they’re an interracial couple.

The writers urge us to make assumptions. And because we have seen numerous movies in which protagonists from the city cross paths with rough characters who live in the middle of nowhere, we think we know where the movie is heading. In many ways, we will be right on target: the couple will admire the beauty of their surroundings, they will have fun for a while, and they will be reminded of the reasons why they choose to be together. Just when their emotional reunion reaches a climax, they will find themselves in a terrifying situation.

While admiring the northern lights, they notice a red dot moving about their tent. Someone is watching them. Although their tent sits on a clearing, it is the dead of night. Surely it must be some sort of sick prank. Or that’s what they want to believe. These two are not blameless. Deep down, they know they should not have escalated the situation with the hunters.

And so it goes on like this for a while. It feels as though the material is simply going through a checklist of what we expect to experience in a survival thriller. But I say the approach wears out its welcome eventually. There are not enough creativity and fresh choices placed in between the signposts which allow the work to stand out among its contemporaries. Instead, it is too reliant upon a third-act twist to get viewers, who may have long checked out, to be invested again. The best thrillers are consistently curious all the way through despite familiar elements. This one appears to have put all its eggs in one basket. And the gamble doesn’t quite pay off.

Darborg and Dickson wish so badly to blindside their viewers that they overlook the importance of pacing. Notice how the movie lumbers about when David and Nadja attempt to survive the cold on top of their nasty injuries and increasing exhaustion. This should be the picture at its most thrilling and unpredictable. By the time the shocking plot development rolls around, it comes across rather anticlimactic. It is a missed opportunity because this particular angle is used only to shock, never explored in thoughtful or meaningful ways. Not to mention that the morality it imparts is most generic.

17 replies »

  1. i’m going to give this one a try. I see it’s on netflix. I think i may like this one more than you; i think I’m starting to notice a pattern in your reviews, and can pinpoint why we think so differently about films at times: you require more backstory, where i require more intrigue and mystery…

    of course i want backstory, as well, and you also want mystery, but too much backstory told in a slow manner feels like it drags the story for me, where as with you it can connect you to the characters more, therefore make you care more about where their story goes, even if it’s not in a particularly suspenseful manner…

    where as I don’t really care that much about the details of a backstory if the present story feels suspenseful and keeps me guessing…

    of course the best films can mesh backstory and the present story together in an intriguing manner, which you and I nearly always agree on these films…and I agree you need some kind of exposition given how the characters became who they are, or how they arrived at their current predicament, etc. but I don’t like too much, where as I think you connect more with stories that delve deeper into backstory…just an observation.

    Alright, with all that in mind, if this movie sucks I’m suing your blog!! :)

    • That is a very accurate assessment of my taste. Hahaha. Thank you for the laugh!

      No, I have not even heard of “The Sinner.” I don’t really watch television anymore. It does play, however, when I’m visiting my parents. But if it’s just me at my place, I’d rather listen to the news or watch movies. Once in a while, I would get into mini-series like “The Queen’s Gambit.” That one is excellent. But for me to decide to watch one, it would have to have a strong word-of-mouth. I’d rather watch movies because the story is usually done between 80-180 minutes. Shows and mini-series requires commitment, man. But I will look up “The Sinner” since you recommended it. Thanks!

    • Okay, I might check out “The Sinner.” The premise sounds very interesting. Oh, and all you had to say was that Christopher Abbott was in Season 1. I’m a super big fan. He’s criminally underrated. And Jessica Biel getting accolades for her performance? (I don’t think I’ve liked her in anything.) I gotta see this.

      • yes! I agree about Charlie Abbott; he is strangely intriguing, i.e. Sweet Virginia, a film we discussed a while back. he always plays characters that are hard to read and unpredictable, which you know are my favorite kinds of characters. Him and Kit Harrington have to play brothers at some point; they look like twins! lol.

        I think I didn’t necessarily ask you to start with season 1 of The Sinner b/c Jessica Biel starred, and I figured you didn’t like her for some reason, and I was right. lol. But she’s not bad on the show. I think all 3 seasons are good, although all deal with completely new cases. Oh, and yeah I don’t watch TV either very often. I started watching The Sinner when it was available on netflix.

      • i just finished season 3; it’s not that I haven’t seen anything similar before, but for some reason the finale left an affect on me; such a range of emotions tugging at you. I think you’ll like it, probably the whole series, but i think you’ll especially like season 3; if you’re crunched for time, maybe just watch season 3, which i think is the best. Charlie Abbott was in season 1, but was mostly a supporting character who didn’t really get to do a whole lot. In season 3, I think the dynamic with Matt Bomer w/ both Chris Messina and Bill Pullman was really good.

        • I checked out Season 1, Episode 1 last weekend. I liked what I saw so far. I hope to (slowly) watch the series. Thanks for the recommendation. That killing by the lake was brutal. My suspicion is that the Jessica Biel character was molested in some way when she a kid or teenager… or maybe that’s what the writers want us to believe at first… I like that it’s not super clear. That creates intrigue.

          • wasn’t the murder on a beach? If it’s the scene I’m thinking of; or maybe I’m misremembering, but yeah it was absolutely brutal. Yeah, it’s a good show to watch when you have a chance.

  2. PS: I’m currently watching season 3 of “The Sinner” with Bill Pullman on netflix. have you watched this series yet? I think it’s pretty good, especially for a cable network series (USA). Two episodes in season 3 and it’s got me guessing, so that’s a good sign. :) I just hope they can sustain it throughout the season; that’s the challenge for storytelling, especially a series.

  3. PSS: oh, and i meant to tell you, each season of The Sinner is a stand-alone case Detective Ambrose is working, so if you wanted you could actually start with season 2 or 3, and you wouldn’t miss anything. Matt Bomer and Chris Messina are on season 3, and i think doing a great job.

  4. Alright man, I watched this last night – or SOME of it. I actually agree with your review. Initially after reading I thought it sounded like a movie I would like, but boy did they try to force drama that didn’t feel authentic. Yes, this would have been so much better had they stayed on-track and kept the story about this strained relationship; if you wanted to turn it into a survival story after getting stuck in the cold for an extended period of time, and this experience helped them come to terms with their relationship, that would have been the way to go, and could have made for a really interesting story…

    But then they have to insert these oddball hunters; then the bender-fender; then the racial slur; then she retaliates, etc. just felt so manufactured, and took away from the point of the story, which was could this marriage be reconciled…

    I actually turned it off after she scratched their vehicle b/c I didn’t want to watch this kind of forced drama; the screenplay feels like something a teenager would write. If you observe netflix closely, they are always forcing something about racism. I am not saying that no racists exist, but it’s not nearly as prevalent as they make it out to be…

    I live in the south and there’s a lot of blacks, whites and latinos in my city, and I don’t feel any racial tension; when I go out, it always feels like everyone gets along. The other day I saw two dudes about to fight in a parking lot, and they were both black; typically when you see conflict between people, it’s usually people who are of the same ethnicity, and not opposite. The danger of constantly inserting racial tension into so many of your movies is you can start to make a lot of people become paranoid against other races, and can create the illusion of racism in your mind where there actually isn’t any…

    On another note, I watched a new netflix movie last night that just came out called “I Care For You”. GO WATCH IT! Move it to the TOP of your queue! The screenplay is absolutely amazing! It’s probably going to be my favorite film of 2021. Not sure if you’ll like it as much as me, but I know you’ll appreciate it, nonetheless, and I look forward to your review. Pike and Dinklage are so good in these roles, and the set-up here is masterful. And I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the ending, but I think the ending was brilliant, and stays congruent with the narrative of the story without feeling forced. I’m not sure if everyone will like the ending, but I appreciated it b/c it felt authentic, and that is the best thing from a strong screenplay. Diane Weist and Chris Messina are also great in supporting roles.

    • I agree. I think the writers were so desperate to introduce red herrings at the cost of the story’s focus.

      But I have to disagree with you about your racism comment. As a person of color, whenever my family and I take a trip within the States but outside of California, especially in more rural places, we’d always get looks and stuff like that. There was this time, for example, when my parents visited me in Ohio during my time in grad school, we were walking around the park, and this person came up to my mom and made slanted eye gestures and a mocking Chinese-like language. (We’re not Chinese. lol.) There’s systemic racism in this country (and other countries too) that I don’t think will be eliminated in our lifetimes. I mean, just take a look at those in power and how they silenced Colin Kaepernick for exercising his right to protest. It’s angering and gross. Anyway…

  5. PS, oh and I’m telling you to move “I Care For You” to the top of your queue b/c it just came out on the 19th (not to come across bossy. lol) and people will be searching for reviews, so the sooner you got a review out, the more traffic your blog should get. I think this movie will sustain some momentum thru word of mouth, as well. Oscar nomination for Pike, please. I hated her character, and that’s the sign of a great performance; her best role since “Gone Girl”. Looking forward to your review. I hope you get a chance to watch this weekend. :)

    • Yes! I planned on watching it last night, but I was so busy with work that I ended up feeling tired by dinnertime. So I opted to watch “No Escape Room” instead (which also just became available on Netflix)–which I do NOT recommend watching. It’s awful.

      But I will try to watch “I Care A Lot” today. I heard good things so I’m looking forward to it. If I do, I hope to have a review up by tomorrow.

      Oh, you know I don’t care about traffic. lol. This website is just for me to have easy access on all my writings.

      This is where it’s at for me now (lol); do let me know if ever get an account:

      • oh yeah, I saw the trailer for No Escape Room and thought it looked absolutely painful to watch. lol. OK, so now I am kind of regretting recommending I Care A Lot for you b/c I went to the IMDB ratings and it was flooded with 1 ratings from people who hated it. Now, I’m afraid you’re going to hate it, as well, and ban me from the blog. lol. I’m afraid to read your review now. I guess there was just an aspect about the film that I liked that most others didn’t.

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