A handheld genre horror film with marvellous use of location shots and with a real sustained feeling of claustrophobia throughout. Every now and then you come across a film that details something in the real world and you think to yourself, ‘why have I never heard about this before?’, and for The Red Dragon this was precisely the case here as a group of youngsters head down into the Parisian Catacombs, which apparently spread for many, many miles under the City of Lights and exist as the final resting place for millions of her residents, adapted from old stone mines in the late eighteenth century as a solution to the lack of graveyard space in the city, and now one of the fourteen City of Paris Museums that constitute the Paris Musées.
The story follows the exploits of Scarlett (Perditta Weeks), the beautiful English rose (although Weeks is actually Welsh I should point out) whose father was obsessed with finding the Philosopher’s Stone – an obsession that may have driven him to suicide. She follows in his footsteps quite convinced that legendary alchemist Nicolas Flamel not only had possession of the stone, but also left clues for others to follow and find its location. Legend has it the stone can turn lead into gold but also heal the most grievous of wounds (it can, I posses it), and of course both it and Flamel were immortalised in the public imagination by J.K.Rowling in the first of her Harry Potter novels. What ensues has a strong treasure hunt feel to it, and in fact the film is more successful in this regard than, for example, either of the Tomb Raider films.
Descending underground leads to some very, very uncomfortable scenes and unusually for this type of film none of the characters are particularly annoying, where it does falter is in the opening segment which is notably weak, and later on when more supernatural elements come into play – all of which were done reasonably well, it’s just that they are also reasonably traditional and you kind of wish for that final spark that would really make this into something special. As it is, this is a uniquely polished production with moments of real intensity and at the same time one that isn’t simply content with trying to torment its audience like most of its contemporaries do, instead it plays out like a cross between ‘The Goonies’ (85) and ‘The Descent’ (05), producing a final concoction that is just as memorable in its own right.