A modern horror film that has not only a story but … acting as well! No one could have been more surprised than The Red Dragon by this, indeed it’s quite an interesting plot despite being littered with various tropes of the genre – lots of sustained flash light scenes in dark places, exorcism and little girls with music boxes (I mean seriously, who in their right mind would buy a child one of those – here you go my dear, this will practically ensure you will one day be enslaved by a demon who will give you your first sexual experience, or at the very least you’ll have regular nightmares for the next ten years). Eric Bana plays an NYPD cop who, along with his partner Joel McHale, must investigate several mysterious and violent events in the city, all of which lead back to a tour of duty in the Middle East for three ex-military personnel, and their discovery of some ancient ruins ….
Part of the reason for the grounded structure of this is that it’s actually based on the 2001 novel ‘Beware the Night’ by none other than the officer Bana is playing, Ralph Sarchie, who gave up fighting a life of crime to fight against another type of evil, becoming a demonologist (not a dermatologist, as Wikipedia currently suggests) after tutelage and inspiration from father Mendoza, here played by Édgar Ramírez (who has played not only Simon Bolivar and Carlos the Jackal, but was of course the lucky duck who gets it on with Keira Knightley in ‘Domino’ 05). So all of the events in the film are purportedly real from that perspective, but director and scriptwriter Scott Derrickson does a very good job of creating tension and has the right tempo for the story, although it should have been trimmed by maybe fifteen to twenty minutes as the overall length and that of some of the scenes starts to undermine the otherwise taught atmosphere.
There are quite a few throwaway aspects to the narrative too, such as the police connecting events they don’t yet have the information on to be able to do and references to the music of The Doors which seem somewhat spurious. Possibly Derrickson is just a fan, and ultimately the good acting and story make it easy not to mind these faults, especially if you also happen to like The Doors. For some reason, when they are trying to force a demon in possession of a body to reveal its name I could have sworn it replied ‘Jimmy’ (imagine, ‘Hey you, Jimmy! Get oot ya fanny!!’) which would have been awesome, and there are more than a couple of moments when the film is knowingly poking fun at itself to slightly lighten the tone. Worth going to see if you are a fan of the genre.