31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 19: Red Dragon (2002)

I don’t know if this counts as a horror, but a friend of mine had an awesome idea to host a Hannibal movie night (complete with chianti and liver; she couldn’t find fava beans so went for chickpeas). I arrived in time for Red Dragon; I’d initially planned on reviewing The Silence of the Lambs, but my other half was smoking up such a hippie storm that I had to conduct several escape missions to the kitchen to help our host with the cooking (and by “help”, I mean shrug while trying to look up how to cook liver, because I don’t eat meat and I’d only eaten liver once).

So I made Red Dragon the focus of my evening. I’m currently reading the book, but am less than 100 pages in. Despite that, it was still weird to see the pages come to life so faithfully on screen. The only other Hannibal-related canon I’d seen was the current TV show, which placed Red Dragon’s protagonist Will Graham as a bit more on the autism spectrum, far less personable, and way more attached to dogs than people (granted, this was when he was sort of starting out in the field). I recall being shut out of the living room when I was about 9 or so, really wanting to join the older members of my family in watching The Silence of the Lambs, but was told I was simply not old enough, even though I could sit behind the door and hear most of it from the hallway.

source: qwipster.net

But Hannibal Lecter, as portrayed by the bloody legendary Sir Anthony Hopkins, is present in this film (published first in the book series, though made over a decade after his first appearance), and I instantly knew why he still held up as such a classic movie villain. In fact, to call him a “villain” is almost insulting; he’s creepy, unsettling, intelligent, manipulative, observant, clinical, and disarmingly insulting – all things we’d rather a villain not be. It might explain why it was OK for me to watch mindless gore like Fright Night instead of more realistic horror threats like this or Friday the 13th.

Though…he’s not even the film’s bad guy at all. That role is filled by a killer nicknamed The Tooth Fairy (Ralph Fiennes), who’s played so expertly that it’s hard to forget that he was ever Voldemort or Amon Goeth or that plausible romantic comedy with Jennifer Lopez as a hotel maid who’s unlucky in love. He also presents hints of sympathy as the character struggles to reconcile his attempts at a happier life with his fucked-up childhood. To me, he didn’t feel entirely like a one-sided villain, but I would have liked to have elaborated more on that, rather than leaving some of that work to Fiennes’ expressive eyes.

source: todoelterrordelmundo.blogspot.com

Speaking of which, everyone in this movie has extra-expressive eyes. During the Will/Hannibal scenes, it’s like a doe-eyed stare-off; many close-ups of seas of torment and naivete and mischief and pain and terror and disgust. I knew that this wasn’t going to be the relatively soulless, police procedural TV shows because we’re more immersed in how each character affects the other character. It’s one big character mind-fuck.

I just looked up the movie and realized that Brett Ratner directed it. That might explain why everyone kind of panned it. Some of the moments-intended-as-horror are awkwardly, possibly unintentionally-campy, and there are moments that pointlessly distracted me, such as the following:

  • Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character (or just Philip Seymour Hoffman) has asymmetrical eyebrows. His left (our right) eyebrow starts further away from the bridge of his nose than the other one.
  • Every door in the movie is dingy, or looks like it was drawn on with a crayon.
  • Edward Norton’s character’s hair is oddly fashionable (frosted tips and everything). I’m aware of the time period in which this is set, but does Will Graham look like the kind of guy who’d care about trendy tresses.
  • Hannibal’s cell sink looks like a Muppet face.
  • It does!!

Other than that, it was great; it was tense, tender in the right places (shut up), and well-acted. I’ve never watched a movie halfway through reading the original book, but I can’t wait to see how the rest of the book had been rendered on screen.

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