Written and directed by Tonya Pinkins
Starring Tonya Pinkins, Kathryn Erbe, Ruben Blades, Catherine Curtain
Americans live in one of the most divisive times in the country’s history. A vicious and violent hatred has swept through our nation once again and is destroying our humanity day by day.
The only positive of this terrible time in America is that it seems to have fueled artists of all kinds to create material born of this mess the country finds itself in.
Written and directed by Tonya Pinkins, “Red Pill” is very much a political and socially conscious Horror film.
It is the eve of the upcoming 2020 presidential election. A group of six progressive friends ride deep into red country (Virginia) looking to canvas the area and get more votes for their candidate. The friends include Cassandra (Pinkins) and her asshole boyfriend Bobby (Adesola A. Osakalumi), Rocky (the treasure that is Rubén Blades) and his wife Emelia (played by his actual spouse Luba Mason), Lily (the always great Kathryn Erbe) and the wisecracking Nick (Jake O’Flaherty).
The group has rented a house in a small rural town and things are askew even before they reach their destination.
As they enter the town, the “Wicker Man” vibe immediately kicks in. Women dressed in black sweatsuits with a twisted red symbol imprinted on the front stand in their yards watching the travelers arrive like a gauntlet of the unwelcoming.
Once they get to the house, Cassandra instantly gets a bad feeling. Of course, her feelings are just. The group is being watched. The house is stocked with hidden cameras so the strange cult of white women who inhabit the town can watch over them.
From their first morning, bad things begin to happen, and the trip becomes immediately life threatening.
The meaning of the red pill of this film’s title means, as Cassandra states, “someone who infiltrates a group and destroys them from the inside.” With that cue, the film sets its sites on the destruction of this country from its core, by the people who claim to love it but go against everything it stands for.
Pinkins makes for an effective lead and as a screenwriter her concept is equally as strong. This is a horror film with a message. That its villains are a group of white, racist, right-wing, urine-drinking, cult of modern day “Karens” makes it all hit that much closer to home. This is the bitchy and entitled taken to more terrifying extremes.
As director, Pinkins does well in creating mood, populating her film with disturbing imagery from the very first frame, each moment hinting at the danger that surrounds the group.
Working with cinematographer John Hudak Jr., Pinkins takes the comfort of the idyllic Fall countryside and makes it a surrounding that we cannot trust. The beautiful foliage hides something sinister and violently disturbing.
If the kill scenes are effective but somewhat over the top, let us remember that we are in a horror film. The power of the death scenes lies in how they are killed. The cult has designed their methods based on the racist means of their ancestors. Even in wildly designed murders set within a genre film, there is a lesson. More evidence that Pinkins is a smart filmmaker.
There will be the obvious (an unavoidable) comparisons to Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” due to the film’s message, but it is unfair. Pinkins has created her own unique piece born of anger and frustration. As a Black woman in 2021 America, Tonya Pinkins has a voice that must be heard and seeing all of it through her eyes makes it quite powerful. It is a very good thing that so many female filmmakers are getting their messages out there. In cinema, the playing field needs to be level and filmmakers such as Pinkins, Nia DaCosta, Janicza Bravo, Regina King, and more are continuing to demolish barriers and make that happen.
If the film’s message seems overly in-your-face, perhaps that is what America needs. No one in this country listens to warnings. Therefore, the country is in the state it is in today.
Think about where we as American people are right now. In 2021, Democratic ideals are being eroded. People of color are being murdered by those who are supposed to protect them. Basic freedoms are being erased. Politicians seek to destroy voting rights while others call for white supremacy. Everything vile and sinister is out in the open, and much of this country either cheers it all on or ignores it.
This is a frightening time. The flames of racism and hatred will only grow stronger unless there is more push back against them.
In 2016, this country sat on its ass and allowed evil to take control. Tonya Pinkins’ “Red Pill” is a clever and well directed film that exists as both a mirror to these times and a warning to never let that happen again. The film’s final act should chill us all to our very soul.
R, 97 Minutes, Red Pill Movie, Midnight Releasing