It is brutally cold outside. But the snow is pretty, you say. Yeah. Try shoveling it. Or traversing the mountains of it that your lazy comrades left behind on their sidewalks, which iced over into ass-busting and muscle-pulling death traps. But it’s only been like this for a couple weeks, you say. Look. Days are weeks now. Weeks are months. Please get with this program.
Thankfully Netflix is here to help with biweekly, subtitled reminders that winter 2021 could always suck a lot harder. The weather and other people could be trying to kill you. Which … well, in a way, that’s happening, too, but MOVING ON.
In late January, the streamer served up a so-so wintry spin on Con Air and Assault on Precinct 13 in Spain’s Bajocero (Below Zero). Now, it’s Red Dot, in which Swedish spouses are targeted on the taiga by a vicious assailant. This certainly like the sort of detritus Netflix regularly drops into an abyss of algorithmic anonymity. It’s definitely a survival setup as old as time. But director / co-writer Alain Darborg and co-writer Per Dickson find a way to truly clean your clock. You thought those knobs across the street who leave their orange shovel outside but never use it have a neck-snapper on their hands? They’ve got nothing on Red Dot, with bold choices to recalibrate your entire concept of what’s transpiring and elevate an 80-minute mean machine into essential viewing for those who prefer their thrillers Hobbesian — nasty, brutish and short.
David (Anastasios Soulis) and Nadja (Nanna Blondell) are a married couple trying to rekindle their spark. They’ve moved to Stockholm for Nadja’s medical studies, and her stray moments out of school find David vegging out on video games to decompress from his stressful job. Darborg seems acutely aware of the alone-together retreats that even people who love each other deeply tend to beat during strenuous times, those feel-good responses for which we fumble and the eventual stumble. Nadja isn’t sure she can handle much more, especially when she learns she’s pregnant.
After another senseless shouting match, David books an impromptu camping trip for him, Nadja and their dog, Boris, to lay out underneath the Northern Lights. As they settle in to soak up the serenity of nature’s wonders and seemingly reconcile their differences, a rifle’s laser sight lights up their tent. And then the terrain around them when they get up to investigate. Next, their torsos. Eventually, their temples. Shots ring out. Boris bolts. Nadja and David scatter, forced to seek shivery shelter. Returning to the tent the next morning, they find their belongings gone and … well. Look. Sweet little Boris’s grisly demise tips the relentless ride Darborg and Dickson have in store.
From the dizzying disorientation of David and Nadja’s initial flight from danger to a shot of blood running in rivulets out of a gnarly wound, Red Dot is filled with things to make you say yeesh and feel bad for them. But then the film forces you to consider what Nadja and David’s upward mobility really epitomizes, creates some chilling context for the detachment strategies they’ve adopted … and really, really starts to burrow under your skin.
Red Dot builds to a brain-popping boil that, for all the hosannas hurled their way, filmmakers like Ari Aster and modern-day M. Night Shyamalan could only dream of equaling. If Shyamalan tackled this, his quacked-out quelle surprise would make Nadja or David the shooter. Aster might get to a similar place as Darborg but rob all the power by taking twice as long to do it. The idea that things are bad but you could be in these folks’ shoes is the basis for all controlled-fear cinema. Red Dot contorts that notion in an unsettling and unsparing fashion you won’t soon forget, winter, spring, summer or fall.