Red Dot‘s survivalist vision isn’t consistently executed, but there’s enough here to suggest Darborg is worth watching.
There’s something appealingly primal about stranding movie characters in nature and then asking them to battle for their lives, be it against nature itself (Joe Carnahan’s The Grey), something supernatural (Bryan Bertino’s The Monster; J.D. Dillard’s Sweetheart), or against unknown, unseen human aggressors (any of the million variations on The Most Dangerous Game; Ti West’s Trigger Man, Jen McGowan’s Rust Creek). The most accomplished of the recent bunch is John Hyams’ Alone, a two-hander about a woman fleeing her kidnapper which succeeds largely due to Hyams’ remarkably assured, precise filmmaking. New Swedish survival-thriller Red Dot doesn’t reach the heights of some of the aforementioned films, but it’s a fairly accomplished entry in this admittedly narrow sub-genre. Director and co-writer Alain Darborg spends entirely too much time setting up his scenario, but once the film gets going, it becomes relentlessly harsh, boasting both a welcome mean streak and a no-frills aesthetic that captures the cruel indifference and implacable nature of the landscape. No one is safe here, and anything can happen.
After a brief, in medias res opening showing a beaten, bloodied David (Anastasios Soulis) and Nadja (Nanna Blondell) being held at gunpoint by an off-screen antagonist, Red Dot quickly flashes back to fill in their relationship. He’s a recent college grad, and after proposing to Nadja, they pack up and move to Stockholm so she can pursue a medical degree. But there’s trouble in paradise, and their relationship has quickly soured. They argue constantly: David works too much, and Nadja is sick of doing everything around the house herself. In an effort to patch things up, David arranges for a weekend getaway of hiking and camping under the Northern Lights. Along the way, they cross paths with a couple of racist hunters (Nadja is black, and doesn’t take kindly to the racially-motivated taunts), as well as some off-putting locals when they check into their accommodations. After some hiking and skiing, and a few hijinks as they struggle to set up their tent, they’re finally camped out under the stars, snuggling for warmth as snow gently falls outside. It’s a surprise when the eponymous red dot appears on the side of their tent, immediately shattering the serene atmosphere. Assuming it’s some kids messing around with a laser pointer, David and Nadja try to shoo them away. But it’s no game, and once shots ring out, David and Nadja must start running for their lives.
Darborg and cinematographer Benjam Orre recognize both the beauty of this remote, snowy mountain top as well as how quickly that calm tranquility can morph into total, threatening isolation; these wide-open spaces that once reflected a certain freedom now offer nowhere to hide. David and Nadja crawl through snow and run through wooded thickets to avoid the shooter (or shooters), and David is wounded repeatedly. The couple occasionally glimpse shrouded figures in the distance and assume that it’s the hunters come to take revenge on them for a previous altercation, but the filmmakers hold off on revealing the gunmen and their motives for much of the movie’s runtime. Indeed, the ultimate revelation of who’s targeted them, and why, lands with a thud, and involves some elaborate flashbacks detailing plot points that feel forced. Still, as is the case with the best of these types of thrillers, our protagonists’ character is revealed not through exposition or pat psychology, but through action. Nadja is willful and aggressive, the evident dominant force in the relationship. David is more prone to wilt and run, and once he’s sustained injuries, is quick to give up. Darborg engineers some solid set pieces, including a nail-biting moment where our couple find themselves running across an iced-over lake that can’t support their weight. Red Dot eventually loses the thread, jettisoning procedural detail and its keen observation of survival instincts for a belabored exposition dump that introduces questions of morality that it’s not entirely prepared to engage. Not for nothing, though, there’s a solid 45 minutes here that are pure cinema, all harried movement and sweaty desperation, and on the strength of that stretch, it’s safe to say Darborg is a talent to watch.
You can currently stream Alain Darborg’s Red Dot on Netflix.