Red Kingdom Rising

Red Kingdom Rising is a very intriguing new British Indy horror from Navin Dev, and one which, I am delighted to say, avoids the far too easy route some less skilled new film-makers take in creating a horror flick and thinking sudden jumps or needless splatter or sadistic torture equals genuine horror (not that I mind a bit of splatter but too many use it or torture in horror in place of creating story or atmosphere rather than to serve it). No, what Dev has done is crafted a delightfully dark dream world of a film, inspired by Lewis Carroll (which appeals to me as Carroll is one of my favourite writers of all time).

Mary Ann (played by Emily Stride) is a troubled young woman, haunted by dreams that seem to leak out into her waking life, creating real problems for her everyday life and work, dreams that seem to be wrapped around tales of Alice in Wonderland and more specifically the figure of the Red King that her father used to read to her against her mother’s wishes. But what parts are dreams of the book, which are perhaps dreams of her father who has just passed away, and do they mean something? We begin with a quite dark, disturbing nightmare – is it childhood memories mixed up with guilt over her father’s recent death surfacing in her mind, or do these dark, blood-red dreams signify something else, some aspect of her family life of childhood that she has repressed or ignored.

Reluctantly Mary Ann decides to return to her family home and her distant mother; it’s clear she didn’t grow up in the most conventional, loving family environment. As she settles back into her old room the dream become more vivid – the sleeping (now awakening) Red King, a small girl in period costume called Alice, who, disturbingly has no real face, just a face shaped blank visage which reminded me of some of the wonderfully creepy moments from the old Sapphire and Steel show (which is a compliment). The waking world and the dark fantasy of the dream state become increasingly tangled like the roots of an old, gnarled tree, and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell one from the other – a moment with her rather odd mother in the kitchen seems like it may be the real world, albeit it very strange but then the mother’s behaviour is strange, but then it suddenly feels more like the dreams/nightmares are crowding into the scene – portents and symbols litter the film, both in the waking scenes and the dreamstate, and really you cannot separate either strand of the film, both are a part of Mary Ann’s damaged psyche, held together (barely) for years into early adulthood but now bleeding out into the open and forcing her to find the source and confront it.

I won’t spoil it for you by delving any further into the plot, but I will say Dev creates a very assured slice of fantasy-horror on a small budget, deftly weaving symbols and literary references into the story and treating his audience as intelligent enough to understand the symbology and the dream-state scenes without spoon-feeding them. The waking world and the dark dreamstate become increasingly hard to tell apart and in truth you shouldn’t even try, they are all part of Mary Ann’s attempt to understand the roots of the nightmare figure of the Red King that has haunted her since childhood – who is he, what does he represent? Who is the small, faceless child Alice? A guide, an ally or a mischievous spirit?  Red Kingdom Rising is a beautifully-made horror-fantasy moving through dark, dream waters that run deep, crafting genuine, disturbing horror not from shocks or OTT effects but by constantly layering up an in increasing sensation of claustophobia and building sensation of dread, of there maybe being now way out – is there a genuine source to these troubling nightmares or is Mary Ann simply mentally ill? Is there any rational way to approach dream logic to unravel the meaning? Dev has produced a confident, elegant dark fantasy of a film that engages you into a brooding atmosphere that will appeal to anyone who enjoys intelligent, elegant horror such as the early works of Del Toro.

Sadly at the moment, as is often the case for independent film-makers, getting the resources together to make a film is a real battle, but having managed to achieve that and make the film there is a whole second battle to be fought to try and get the attention of distributors to get the film widely shown. I know I often see very fine Indy films of all genres at the Edinburgh Film Festival and it can be months, sometimes years or even never before I see them get a distibution deal to be shown to the general public in cinemas. At the moment Dev is doing special screenings and the film festival circuit to try and build word of mouth and create awareness of Red Kingdom Rising, so sadly you won’t be able to see it easily right now in your local cinema, but do check the official site for news of special screenings (I’m told the excellent Kim Newman was at one recently and liked what he saw, which is a good indicator to those of us who enjoy good horror) and festival showings, because when someone makes an intelligent, atmospheric Brit horror movie like this they deserve some support. And distributors, you should be looking at this film and getting it out to audiences.

 

This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet Blog

Random Book meme

Random book meme

Yvonne tagged me for a random book meme. I don’t often follow up on memes, but since this was a book based one I couldn’t resist, so here’s how it works:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

I’m guessing that to do it properly you have to indeed pick up the nearest book and not go rummaging for something you think will give you a cool quote; I picked up Bryan Talbot’s excellent graphic novel Alice in Sunderland and page 123 just happens to be a page executed in a 19th century style of illustration quoting from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky:

Beware the jubjub bird and shun the frumious Bandersnatch! He took his vorpal sword in hand: longtime the manxmome foe he sought. So rested he by the Tumtum tree and stood awhile in thought.”

And I hereby tag Ariel, Jeff VanderMeer, Padraig, Richard Bruton and George Wakley: let me know in the comments if you decide to follow up on it, geezers. And if any of the rest of you fancy trying it, go ahead!

Going down the rabbit hole

We had one of the top talents in Brit comics in the Edinburgh FPI yesterday in the form of Bryan Talbot, creator of Luther Arkwright. Bryan has spent several years researching and working on his new work Alice In Sunderland, a large, hardback graphic novel with Lewis Carroll’s Alice books at its core, but going off onto all sorts of related tangents which influenced Carroll and his work, from local history in and around Sunderland, folklore, the family history of Carroll and of Alice Liddell’s family and some of Bryan’s own personal life. There can’t be many creators who can work in Lewis Carroll, the Venerable Bede, smugglers, naval heroes, the Jabberwock, mass murder, cholera, the Civil War, white rabbits and the ghost of Sid James and make it all work.

I’ve been dying to read Alice in Sunderland since I interviewed Bryan last summer and I haven’t been disappointed. Sure I am biased since Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are two of my all-time favourite books and have been since I was a boy; as an adult I still adore the sheer dreamlike imagination of them but also came to admire the incredible intellect behind them, Carroll’s astonishing use of immensely clever word play (and number play too, for that matter – check the Annotated Alice to see what I mean). No wonder Alice has been such an incredibly influential work, re-interpreted endlessly in more books, films, animations (despite liberties with the books I do like the old Disney version because of the richness of the animation, but my favourite animated version is by Jan Svankmajer – the Prague Alchemist of Film and one of my favourite animators), songs, games and, of course, comics.

With such a mixture of local history and literature and folklore I think Alice in Sunderland is one of those graphic novels which can easily crossover into the mainstream – if you don’t normally read anything in comics form and assume it is pretty much all capes and tights, ignore your preconceptions and have a look at Alice; there are many different and wandering routes through the rabbit hole and this is one of the more scenic ways. I posted some pictures from the signing on the FPI Flickr stream and also tried shooting a couple of very brief video clips as an experiment to see how it came out: