Red Riding Trilogy: de Sade Yorkshire Style

red-riding-quartetIf Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Criminal Minds, and Lovely Bones haven't sated your hunger for watching entertainments showcasing the abuse, torture, and murder of children and women, you are in luck.

IFC Films is now releasing three films based upon four intertwined novels by David Peace that are known to mystery aficionados as The Red Riding Quartet. If viewed in one sitting, as they were at last year's New York Festival, you can be blithely battered by the battered for 305 minutes.

The locale is the county of Yorkshire in the '70s and '80s, a part of Great Britain where apparently the police are even more corrupt than the rich and the clergy.

In Red Riding: 1974, which is tightly helmed by Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots), several young girls have been kidnapped and most assuredly murdered. Is there a connection? The one body found has had swan wings sewn onto her back and words of love carved into her torso. A budding journalist (a superb Andrew Garfield) decides to place his life on the line to solve the case.

Moving on to Red Riding: 1980, a serial killer has been brutally knocking off the fairer sex for over six years, and none's the wiser as to his identity. A forlorn Manchester officer (Paddy Considine) takes over the case and discovers one of the killings attributed to The Ripper might just be a copycat killing. James (Man on Wire) Marsh adequately directs.

Finally, in Red Riding: 1983, another young girl is kidnapped. Is the perpetrator from '74 still around? How could that be when a mentally imbalanced gent has already been convicted of the crime? (The slightly florid direction here is by Anand Tucker (Shopgirl).)

Well, you'll quickly learn the Yorkshire police force likes to torture its suspects until a confession or two are garnered. A favored method is repeatedly slamming the possibly guilty's fingers with handcuffs and then sticking lit cigarettes into the wounds. If that wasn't enough, strip them naked, beat them senseless, and throw cold water over their bodies. We get to see this delicious scenario at least three or four times.

If that's not enough sadism for you, in Part 2, when The Ripper is caught, we get to hear in finely nuanced detail how he offed his prey, which included sticking objectionable items down their throats and up their other orifices while holding their noses. What joy it is to hear the ladies' gurgling recounted with such bliss.

Nonstop violence aside, this trio of films is beautifully shot, with some sensational acting turns -- especially by Rebecca Hall as one of the victims' mothers. But after you've digested the superior technical and thespian qualities of the series, you'll ask yourself, "Why wasn't this series just relegated to BBC America or some other welcoming channel in hour-long episodes?" (Well, in actuality, the films were first broadcast as a miniseries on Britain's Channel 4.)

Exposing a society where every institution is rank with moral disease, where the populace walks about deluded or in fear, and where the innocent serve out the sentences of the culpable, it's hard to tell whether those involved in this project are horrified by the goings-on or are just exploiting them.

All I know is that by hour four, I just wished my seat came with a showerhead so I could wash off all of Red Riding's slime. - Brandon Judell

(The Red Riding Trilogy will open in New York on February 5th and in Los Angeles on February 12th, with a national release to follow. It will also be simultaneously available on IFC Films' video on demand platform. As for those of you with multi-region DVD players, the set is already available online.)

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Mr. Judell is featured in Rosa von Praunheim's forthcoming documentary New York Memories. In the spring, he'll be teaching "The Image of the Jew in Post-World War II European Cinema" and "Gay and Lesbian Literature" at The City College of New York. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi).

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