“Red Pill” begins with a frenzied scene of cult violence, with faceless women dressed in red brutalizing a pregnant Black woman. Then it takes a jarring step back in time to greener pastures. In a hat tip to “The Shining,” an aerial shot captures an S.U.V. making its way through winding backcountry roads. Just as agonizing as the screaming and blood of the opening, if not more so, is the conversation inside the car where members of a progressive canvassing group, on its way to recruit white female voters, talks politics nonstop.
Cheery alternative rock music and a pit stop that involves the diverse group of friends’ tearing down a racist sign suggest that the filmmaker, the Tony-winning actress Tonya Pinkins, has satirical objectives. But this wonky political horror movie turns out to be painfully earnest and gauche to the point of confusion.
The film takes place around Halloween, in the days leading up to the 2020 election. Nothing feels right at the Airbnb that Cassandra (Pinkins) and her pals arranged. It’s filled with creepy, portraits of googly-eyed animals, while in the surrounding neighborhood, white women in black uniforms stand at attention on their front lawns.
Before too long, the friends — Nick is Jewish, Blake is Black, Bobby (the Grammy-winning musician Rubén Blades) is Latino — are hunted down and some are lynched. While Cassandra clearly suspects the violence is racially motivated, the other members fail to grasp the obvious.
So is this B-movie camp? Stilted performances and a script seemingly generated by a machine certainly make things feel sillier than they ought to be, as does a nightmare sequence involving people dressed in lion costumes straight out of an amateur theater production. But the main issue is the film’s trite commentary on America’s political and racial divides (see also: last year’s “The Hunt”), which is neither funny, frightening, nor provocative. Just numbing.
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