Written and Directed by: Navin Dev
The opposite of love is not hate, but rather ambivalence. This contrast is never felt more than when trying to review a film that somehow elicits nothing but passionless ambivalence from the reviewer. Film reviews should be filled with strong reactions. After sitting with Red Kingdom Rising for a full month, and watching it multiple times, the strongest reaction I can muster is apathy.
Red Kingdom Rising starts out with a promising torture scene. Our main character, Mary Ann (Emily Stride) comes to and is pinned to the ground by tree roots. A faceless red knight is feeling her abdomen, when he plunges his fist in removes a nondescript fleshy mass. Is it a horrifying abortion allegory or was there something else living inside of her? These are the sorts of things that would have been much more interesting than having this simply be a spooky scene to set the mood for what is ultimately a non-spooky movie.
Mary Ann has been having these nightmares because she is preparing herself to go to her childhood home for the first time in quite some time. It is clear that she had a traumatic incident that drove her away, which is eventually revealed by the end of the film. In seeking closure, she decides to return home one last time.
As she immerses herself in her hallowed house, and attempts to communicate with her shutout mother (who unfortunately resembles the decidedly not-scary Marjorie the trash heap from Fraggle Rock), her past comes back to haunt her and she merges her upsetting flashbacks with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Her father both read her that book, and abused her as a child, and the combination of those two worlds is the intended horror of this film.
The bulk of the film’s short running time is taken up by partially developed allusions to the Lewis Carroll classic. I was intrigued by the potential for fantasy horror by borrowing from Alice. After all, much of the book itself is actually terrifying (not to mention that Carol Channing’s White Queen in 1985’s Alice in Wonderland was one of the most terrifying things in my childhood). Perhaps due to budget constraints, if not a lack of imagination, Mary Ann’s experiences are mostly limited to her encounters with the young Alice, who is very clearly the projection of her childhood memories. Mary Ann and Alice dodge around their version of the wonderland, either running away from or towards Mary Ann’s memories.
Though the plot of weak and predictable, there are certain redeeming qualities to Red Kingdom Rising. Stride’s performance as the relatable and at times confused Mary Ann is well done. Often we can relate to her disorientation within the film, but she also is able to drive the action when she is attempting to control her memories.
Director Dev’s attempt at creating a slow burning horror film comes across as a terribly unevenly paced film. But ultimately some actual things do happen, and you care enough for Mary Ann to see what happens at the end of it all. I don’t feel like watching the film was necessarily a waste of time, but I cannot offer a stronger reaction than that. I suppose that fans of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will enjoy all of the textual references, but that may be the only way to feel any response for Red Kingdom Rising.