First of all, and most importantly, this is NOT the movie about the old people who are assassins. No, that movie got enough attention. This is a movie from 2008 based on a Jack Ketchum novel of the same name. If you are anything like me, you shudder slightly when you hear the name Jack Ketchum, because you know his stuff (like The Woman, starring my lovely friend, Pollyanna McIntosh) is unsettling, intense, and often musters many emotions in its readers and viewers. While Red definitely lacks some of the brutality of his other films (like The Girl Next Door), it packs an even harder emotional punch, because the deeper you get down the rabbit hole, the darker it gets. While you guys know I love revenge movies (shoutout to Dead Man’s Shoes), Red may appear a revenge movie on the surface, but do not mistake it for one. This is not a movie about revenge. It is a movie about justice, and there is a difference between the two. If you do not know the difference when the movie begins, you will by the end. And again, for those concerned, I will not spoil the film at all for you, rest assured.
Red is a story about an old man and his dog, Red, who is also very much his best friend. I think, considering this is Ketchum, you can already see where this is going. Avery Ludlow (played by the ever-amazing Brian Cox) was given a dog named Red by his late wife, just before she passed on. Avery and Red are the closest of friends, and they have their daily rituals. One of the things they love to do is go to the local fishing hole and do a little fishing to pass the time on sunny days. One day, Avery is fishing with Red, the dog, laying down sleeping by his side. Some young hunters come through the brush, startling Red and Avery, but Avery is very kind and accommodating to these kids, telling them his advice for hunting and fishing. But this is a Ketchum, so this is where things get ugly, and the brunt of our story begins.
A dark and unforgettable tale about loss, redemption, and justice.
Even when it comes to horror films or thrillers, sometimes stuff happening to animals messes me up more than stuff happening to humans. I know that might make me technically insane, but I don’t think I am alone in that. And for the most part, even fiction knows not to tread on that. Dead kids and dead animals, are things even horror movies often don’t touch. But you need to know, right now, and I am sorry for this, that these punk ass kids blow Red away, right in front of Avery. Anyone who has ever had a pet and loved it like a member of the family must know how upsetting this is. And as odd as it will sound, the film is classy with how it handles the violence, and we never really see Red in that state, which I was relieved about. Okay, once, near the end, but still, for a Ketchum novel, this is fairly mild. In visuals, anyway. When it comes to subject matter, though, be forewarned. It may not upset you, visually, but the subject matter will have you foaming at the mouth.
In the actual death of Red, you can feel Avery’s pain and loss, and just how massive that loss is. But that is not the worst part. The worst part comes in how everyone around Avery handles it. From the local police, to the towns folk, right down to the parents of the young hunters, there is complete disregard for Avery and what he went through. And it is slowly revealed to us that he went through a great deal more than we even knew. This man has had everything he ever loved taken from him, and Red was a sort of proverbial nail in the coffin. This leads me perfectly to my next point, which is the power of Brian Cox’s performance.
He will grab each one of your heart strings and pull them individually.
You will feel his loss. You will feel his rage. You will feel his sadness, and his growing feeling of helplessness as the mess just unfolds more and more around him. I really think Avery is one of the best performances I have ever seen. It is so subtle, so nuanced, that this does not feel like acting. It feels like you peaked into someone’s life and caught them on the worst possible day. But Cox also injects an odd sense of hope into all this. He never becomes a vigilante. Never goes for the vein. He just wants justice is all.
What you need to understand is, if you are imagining Avery losing his dog and turning into some mad man, you are far off. That is not this movie. What makes this all work is just how grounded and human Brian Cox portrays Avery as. Yes, this is a man who has been beaten down by life, but at no point does he reflect back a man who seems like he thinks the world owes him anything. He is just a man on a mission, and in this case, that mission is getting justice for his dog. He doesn’t even hunt them down to kill them. He simply finds the kids and hopes, in their hearts, they will be able to admit what they did and apologize for it. That is all. But obviously parents who enable kids who do such awful things are not good people, and once the war starts between all of them, the family only perpetuates the worst parts of by not doing the right thing. And only stacking more bad shit on top of the some of the good stuff they do.
And that, my friends, is a Jack Ketchum. Yes, kinda like the Pokemon kid.
And as much as you may be scared to see this, especially if you are animal lover, don’t be. It is not brutal, nor is it as nihilist as I may make it sound. To be honest, when all was said and done, and I sat there, MAYBE wiping my eyes a little bit, it hit me what I liked so much about Red. It was not a movie about loss. It was not a movie about revenge, or even its friendlier cousin, justice, like I so boldly stated earlier. No, this was a movie that was about new beginnings. About finding hope in the darkest of places. And if you do find yourself with tears in your eyes at the end of this movie, know tears are not born forth from sadness, but actually, they are tears of joy. Of hope for Avery, that the best of his world may yet be revealed.
For in our darkest hours, there is always the faintest glimmer of hope if you just know where to look. Speaking of hopeful places to look, go read my site.