Though many may argue the point, best-selling author Jack Ketchum (nom de plume of Dallas Mayr) is a writer of frightening horror novels. However, unlike high-profile genre authors like Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, and Dean Koontz, Ketchum only occasionally writes about horrors that arise from fictional supernatural realms. More often than not, his novels focus on the horrors that arise from within the ranks of the human race, and the "monsters" in his novels, which are sometimes inspired by real people and actual events, can be the babysitter next door, privileged kids from a wealthy family, or an ex-girlfriend. After reading a Ketchum novel, one often comes away feeling as if there's some truth to the old adage that we humans are our own worst enemies.
The 2008 indie film RED, based on the Ketchum novel of the same name, tells the story of how Avery Ludlow, a small-town shopkeeper, seeks justice after a trio of rich kids shoot his beloved dog out of spite during an attempted robbery. Getting nowhere with the police, the boys' parents, or the media, Ludlow takes matters into his own hands and tries to extract a simple apology from the boys. Being people of privilege, the boys and the wealthy, influential father of two of them react as if they are above the law--which, in effect, they are--and instead of offering an apology, they do things that only compound the transgressions against Ludlow...with ultimately fatal consequences.
Although RED was co-directed by Lucky McKee, who is better known for his horror movies, the film treats the subject with much more realism and sensitivity than is found in the average horror fare. This is partly due to the excellent performances that McKee and his co-director, Trygve Allister Diesen, draw from their experienced cast. In the role of Ludlow, oft under-appreciated actor Brian Cox--who won accolades for playing audience favorite Dr. Hannibal Lecktor [sic] in Michael Mann's MANHUNTER (1986) long before Anthony Hopkins assumed the role in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)--creates a complex, multi-layered character who simply wants his transgressors to understand the depth and repercussions of their senseless act. Playing Danny, the sociopathic leader of the privileged delinquents, Noel Fisher is truly frightening. And in supporting roles that cast them against their usual horror-show types, actors Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger in the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series) and Amanda Plummer (star of numerous horror and SF movies, among other things) are quite convincing as the incredulous but befuddled parents of one of the boys.
Another thing that raises RED above the standard revenge movie is the fact that, at the film's denouement, Avery Ludlow comes to question the ultimate value and morality of his own actions. Although the boys are clearly wrong in their transgressions against Ludlow and deserve to be punished, and in spite of the fact that Ludlow is undoubtedly entitled to some level of legal recompense, Ludlow nonetheless feels responsible for the fatalities that result from his seeking of justice. His self-doubt brings into question the nature of justice and whether or not genuine justice indeed exists, and the events of the film that lead Ludlow to his moment of doubt tend to emphasize the widening class and generational schisms in the U.S. and how legal justice is often applied differently based on certain demographics.
The DVD edition of RED presents the film in anamorphic widescreen, and the digital transfer is beautiful (which shouldn't be surprising, since the film itself was shot in HD digital video). The disc is short on extras, offering only a brief but interesting interview with star Brian Cox and a few deleted scenes. Still, RED is an intense, engaging film that contains some outstanding performances, and that alone makes the DVD worth amazon.com's price of admission.