T.O.R.R. Dawn of the Red (2011)
Film review #465
Director: Robert Towne
SYNOPSIS: In the near-future, global instability and war is rife, and the CIA recruits army Captain Beck for a mission deep into enemy territory, where he and his team are to stop a Russian warlord from unleashing a new biological weapon…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: T.O.R.R. Dawn of the Red is a 2011 action film. Set in the “near-future” of 2014, the world is in a period of instability, with new wars and separatism rife across many countries…apart from the United States, which seems to be carrying on as normal (American exceptionalism means those sorts of things never happen there). Captain Beck, a member of the U.S. Army, is summoned by the CIA to escort one of their agents, Sophie Delgado, deep into hostile Russian territory to prevent a local warlord from releasing a new biological weapon. The plot in this regard is simple to follow: it is an action film with a team of soldiers going into enemy territory to stop the bad guy. You don’t need much more than that. When the film tries to create more of a story behind the motivations of the mission and characters, it falls down a little because the dialogue is lacking in impact due to a combination of unconfident acting and muffled audio (more on that later). The editing also hinders this, with cutaways that are meant to explain the plot hurting the pace of the film, and feeling more like an exposition dump. You won’t be expecting too much from the film’s story, but still, it’s confusing details and detours detract from the action-oriented nature of the film as a whole. There’s also some pretty funny moments which I’m not sure are intentionally meant to be, such as a terrorist jumping out of a fridge opening fire, which again makes the tone of the film quite uneven, as you’re not sure how seriously you’re meant to take everything.
The characters again are pretty consistent with the genre, with the main character Beck being a chauvinistic soldier with an attitude problem towards escorting a woman. That’s his only personality trait. Agent Delgado as the only female character obviously conflicts with Beck, but it never develops into anything unique. Perhaps quite surprisingly, it also doesn’t develop into something romantic, which is usually how these things usually go in films. The rest of the cast are pretty forgettable, apart from the Russian warlord “Rasputin,” who is definitely overplayed and hyped up as a villain, even though he’s not really around too much. The characters are further diminished by some very poor acting, and a number of times the actors mess up their lines, and obviously a second take should have been done.
About halfway through the film the action changes tone a bit as we are treated to…zombies. It turns out this biological weapon turns people into “reanimated” corpses, and the team have to fend off waves of zombies instead of soldiers. Again, the tone of the film is subjected to an unexpected change that isn’t set-up, and you’re left wondering how seriously to take everything as the military action switches to this horror zombie survival plot. I suppose the title “Dawn of the Red” is meant to be a double reference to the films Red Dawn and Dawn of the Dead, which I guess this film could be seen as a combination of, and hints of what to expect, but that’s a stretch (I also have no idea what T.O.R.R. is supposed to stand for).
This is obviously a low-budget film, and so there’s a number of production issues that are very distracting and disrupt viewer’s immersion. Apart from the shaky acting mentioned above, the dialogue is very inorganic, and attempts to wax philosophical come across as unoriginal and not worth listening to. Apart from the choppy editing that breaks up the action, one of the most distracting things is the poor quality of the audio and how everyone’s voices are muffled or echoes significantly. Some of the zombie/reanimated make-up is very obviously fake as well, but the film hides it a bit in dimly lit rooms. The lighting overall is also something that stands out, with a lot of scenes being filmed in this weird night-vision which creates a high contrast and obscures some of the action. There’s some attempt to create different lighting effects depending on the situation, but they are typically overpowering. The low framerate of the cameras being used also lead to significant blurring, particularly during the action scenes, which means you can barely tell what’s going on sometimes, and combined with the poor audio, makes it completely unengaging. In a more positive respect, the film makes use of a variety of on-location sets, from deserts to snow-covered forests, which is better than similar low-budget films that might confine themselves to abandoned buildings or greenscreens (of which there are none that I could see in this film).
Given that this is an independently made film without much budget, it is unfair to compare such films to big-budget Hollywood productions. However, even in the context of independent films, T.O.R.R. leaves very little to recommend it. The plot is an unsynthesised mix of military action and zombies that is inconsistent, and the mix of action, horror and silly one-liners will leave viewers alienated from anything that goes on screen as they’ll be left wondering how to connect with what is happening. The story and characters are completely forgettable, and the poor dialogue and delivery of lines further stifles engagement. While there’s obviously been a decent amount of effort put into this film with regards to location shots, and getting authentic looking weapons, the poor audio and blurry visuals combined with obtuse selection of lighting makes many scenes incomprehensible, and ruins most of the positive moments the film has. Overall, I don’t think there’s anything unique or interesting to recommend here.