Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983 (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Two girls have gone missing in 1969 and 1972 and a third child is found dead in 1974. In 1983, Hazel Atkins is taken by the same murderer which makes her the most recent victim. Detective Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey) is assigned to the Atkins case but he struggles to remain focused due to the guilt that plagues him. In the past, he has been involved with corruption and it is finally catching up with him. Meanwhile, John Piggott (Mark Addy), a solicitor, meets with a convict, Myshkin (Daniel Mays), who confessed to the aforementioned kidnappings and murder but is now wishing for an appeal.
The final chapter of the “Red Riding Trilogy,” collectively based on David Peace’s novel, “Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983” moves at a brisk pace, certainly faster than its predecessors, but something is lost along the way because the big revelations feel rushed and there is not enough detective work shown on screen for us to be able to connect the dots without relying on the screenplay to spoon-feed information. For a heartbreaking and scary case about child abduction and murders, it is not at all an engaging experience—passable but not a work that stands out even among the trilogy.
The primitive interrogation techniques are well-shot. I felt like I was in that dark room as cops force confessions out of suspects. They do it because they feel pressure to get answers from their superiors and the media. The picture does a good job in communicating that the cops believe what they are doing what is right—actions that will lead to the truth. On the contrary, the case ends up becoming more complicated, unnecessarily so, due to false confessions. These confessions are akin to desperate gasps of air of a drowning person. It is unsettling to watch but you cannot help but observe it all unfold.
Some facts within the investigation remain vague which leaves room for doubt and unanswered questions. Perhaps this might not have been a problem if the material avoided to offer straightforward answers during the final fifteen minutes. One that bothered me especially is the medium (Saskia Reeves) who claims to see the dead girls. From its predecessors, it is shown that the crimes have been well-documented in the papers. If so, why does Jobson entertain the idea that Ms. Wymer can communicate with spirits? If Jobson were written smart, he should have recognized that a lot of what she claims to have learned most likely have come from old newspaper articles. In addition, the medium’s histrionics are phony. “She’s suffocating! It’s dark!,” she wails.
Subplots are introduced but each one does not get enough time to develop. Two of the most underdeveloped subplots involve the past of Piggott’s father which casts a shadow on the son’s work and a gloomy young man (Robert Sheehan) constantly looking out the window of trains. They are integral to the final act but it is off-putting that these strands seem to have thrown into the pot in the last second before being served to us. Not enough time has passed for their flavor to be released.
“Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983,” directed by Anand Tucker and based on the screenplay by Tony Grisoni, is not a terribly constructed mystery-thriller, though at times it is convoluted, but it neither demands our attention nor does it dare us to seek answers of our own. Even if seen through eyes and brain on auto-pilot, the rewards remain few and far between.
Ones Below, The (2015)
★★ / ★★★★
“The Ones Below,” based on the screenplay and directed by David Farr, is a curious thriller about two pregnant couples living in a two-story flat in London, but it offers a far more effective rising action than a knockout blow in terms of its late revelations when it comes to what is truly going on underneath the niceties and pleasantries. It is a project that might have benefited from further revisions of the script; there is no third act.
The picture is aimed toward couples who are about to have or have had a baby because it plays upon the fears of new parents. Notice how the atmosphere and tone is almost clinical in that scenes shot indoors look as if the action were taking place at a hospital or a posh office. There is no laughter or joy, no jokes uttered or even a hint of playful exchanges between the couples. Looking into their lives is like peering into a mouse study where every element inside the plastic box is meant to be controlled and observed. There is an increasing unease as the plot is propelled forward.
Kate (Clémence Poésy) and Justin (Steven Campbell Moore) live upstairs while Theresa (Laura Bird) and Jon (David Morrissey) live downstairs. Right from the beginning we are meant to realize that these couples are very different, almost opposites, even though both are fairly wealthy and the men are the sole providers for their pregnant wives. The dinner scene is tension-filled, a standout in the film, due the manner in which calculated closeups are employed and the editing cuts like scalpel. Clearly, these are strangers who do not fit one another but are trying to make it work simply because of their habitation.
But the film does not function as a high-level suspense-thriller since for the most part the writer-director feels the need to keep certain secrets—even to the point where the viewers must question the sanity of the protagonist. This is a trope that is too often employed but are only occasionally effective. In the material’s attempt to hide too many elements, fearing we might guess what’s going on, it keeps us from a distance rather than inviting us and then rewarding us for sticking with it. The secrets, quite frankly, are not at all game-changers nor are the ideas new, fresh, or the least bit surprising.
What results is a project that offers a solid exercise in tone and mood but one that fails to provide a cathartic resolution, a basic factor in strong suspense-thrillers. Despite being less than ninety minutes in duration, by the end one is still likely to feel as though one’s investment does not provide a satisfying return. Even though its aesthetics can be admired, I couldn’t help but wonder what the point of it was.