A runaway boy named Wei goes on a journey to find his father. Along the way, he meets a robot running from the war after years of battle.
Wei eventually names the robot Red, and together they join forces to escape. But eventually they encounter the enemy, sparking strange behavior in Red and causing Wei to doubt his growing bond with the robot.
Writer-director Mike Pappa has crafted a remarkably emotionally engaging sci-fi short that melds both a sense of old-fashioned entertainment with an engaging narrative about PTSD, war and its effects on soldiers.
On the surface, many filmgoers will immediately reference iconic sci-fi classics like ‘Star Wars’ and ‘E.T.’ The film has a sense of impressive sense of cinematic sweep, thanks to its deft and judicious use and execution of special and practical effects and rich, detailed cinematography. The relationship that builds between Wei and Red seems initially innocently combative, even playful, filled with wisecracks and sarcastic barbs. It’s an interesting riff on the buddy action-adventure, evoking the pleasure of watching two very different characters from very different backgrounds work together to reach a common goal.
But as the narrative develops, the short endows Red with a rich sense of interiority. His dialogue and body language is highly specific and revealing, and the robot often takes great pains to keep and care for Wei.
The voice work that actor Daniel Clarkson brings to the role makes full use of rhythm, diction and cadence to convey Red’s innate intelligence and even “humanity.” He plays off young actor Maddox Henry well, who captures Wei’s youth, sarcasm, innocence and determination. When Red reveals his true background — and the sadness and tragedy he has no understanding of — it forces Wei and Red to confront their differences and learn to trust one another.
“A Crimson Man” is on the longer side for a short, but audiences will likely feel we’ve left Wei and Red’s story — and the world of their story — all too soon. The film starts off with the feel of a sci-fi action adventure, but it deepens into something ultimately more resonant and haunting, looking at how the effects of combat and a lifetime of war affect those who fight in it — and how it affects their relationships after they attempt to leave fighting.
The “twist” is that it’s the robot who has what audiences will recognize as PTSD — and who seems to have more humanity within him than most people who occupy this dystopian world. Like Wei and Red themselves, audiences will come to care for this unlikely pair, and will wonder just what fate befell the duo well after the story ends.