We all have certain types of films that we love above all others. Since you’re reading this I assume that, like me, this certain type of film is horror. So, along those lines, imagine you were magically given funding to make your favorite type of movie. What would it be and how similar to existing films would it be? Well, if you are Julien Carbon and Laurent Courtiaud, the makers of Red Nights, that answer would be anything by Brian DePalma and pretty damn similar.
Red Nights begins with the very sexy set-up of one of our character’s obsession with the human senses and how those senses interact with pleasure and pain. Through this obsession she finds herself in pursuit of a very old, and rare, poison that amplifies the senses exponentially all while rendering the host paralyzed. The trouble is, she is not the only one after this particular poison. From here we travel through double-cross after double-cross until we are so crossed it isn’t even clear who the real protagonist is anymore.
And in a true tribute to DePalma, the entire experience is beautifully stylized and sexualized to the point that it walks the line between amazingness and ridiculousness. Rarely has a shoot out between two heroines looked so sexy. The problem though is that DePalma mostly managed to pull off this balance, creating films that were amplified but mostly successful. Here, Carbon and Courtiaud mostly only succeed at the amplified portion of the program.
The trouble of tackling a film so attached to the genre and, in this case, director that you admire is that you run the risk of looking like a visual copy that has none of the underlying heft of the original works. Red Nights isn’t an unskilled piece of filmmaking but it is a mostly uninspired one. It always feels like a recreation and never a true story with any purpose beyond the superficial realm. When the final sequence of your film involves a battle between two unlikeable people, one of which has only be peripherally involved up to that point, you probably have some narrative issues.
The turn the film takes, the turn that leads us away from the most sympathetic character, is admirable in its bravery but it is lacking in its general execution. It’s as if they were searching desperately for that classic DePalma twist and grasped at this “twist” as a clever addition to that lineage. The fact is, though, that this twist is confusing and out of place on a thematic and pacing level.
So while Red Night works well enough as a tribute to a certain type of film, recreating the look and feel of those classic films, it doesn’t really work as a standalone piece of narrative fiction. Sometimes the sum is not equal to its parts, and Red Nights never really adds up.