Directed by: Joston Theney
Starring: Edward Gusts, Arielle Brachfeld and Melissa Mars.
Indie Film Review by: Annie Vincent
Theney and Gusts’ latest offering is The Letter Red, an update of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which brings our protagonists, John and Jane Macbeth, into 21st century America. Following a tragic miscarriage, they have just moved into a house they cannot really afford, but such is their ambition and their confidence in the promise of promotion that John has been offered at work, that they go for it anyway, rubbing up against the Joneses next door. Of course, things never went particularly well for success-seeking Macbeth in Shakespeare’s day and it doesn’t here either, as John realises that capitalism really sucks. He and his wife exact their revenge on his boss, Duncan (yes, the Macbeth references continue throughout the film), whilst Jane picks up her own little revenge plot on the side as she plays the sweeter-than-sweet housewife. In the end, the threads of the plot all come together in a dark and twisted ending.
This film starts off as a precocious child: confident, capable and with a little flair. The camera work is good, the literary references solid, and the tension palpable. But about a third of the way through, it starts to morph, desperate to become the popular kid, trying anything and everything to be liked. Plot decisions take a drastic, and frankly weird, turn, the soundtrack becomes painful, and the flair and elegance is lost among the darkly comic, slasher-movie conventions. Perhaps it is all part of Gusts’ plan; perhaps it is beautifully ironic that the film loses its way, much like its protagonists. But it jars and leaves this film open to a criticism it wasn’t facing in the first thirty minutes: it doesn’t know what it wants to be.
Which is sad really. Edward Gusts clearly knows what he’s doing in terms of characterisation. Placing Macbeth and his wife in the 21st century, providing them with 21st century issues like childlessness, miscarriage and office politics, is great. Gusts is pretty good at acting too, as is Arielle Brachfeld who is positively cringe-worthy as Jane Macbeth – all at once the pretty little whining submissive under her husband’s wrath, and yet the calculating, sweet-on-the-outside, rotten-to-the-core in the inside vixen, directing his every move towards promotion and ultimate control of his company. But when the plot gives way to petty arguments with the neighbours which result in an unlikely death and a knife attack, the credibility of this story starts to give way and rather than philosophise over those ancient questions of human power and greed, we start to question if that much blood really would result from that type of punch, and that is not the sort of question you want your audience to be asking.
There are a good number of things to like about The Letter Red, but sadly they may be overshadowed by the fundamental flaws, not of Macbeth and his wife, but of the film-making, if you manage to see it through to the end.