Mary Ann returns to her childhood home to once and for all work through her troubled past, and finds herself going deeper into her personal hell than she had ever hoped to be able to. This hell shows itself as nightmarish visions led by a figure called the Red King, whom she has to go up against to clear he memories from evil.
There are so many stories that have been written with Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" as inspirations, and a whole bunch of film adaptions of said story, as well as inspired stories. While the straight-forward adaptions often are following the original story carefully, the stories that are simply based or inspired by "Alice in Wonderland" can really let themselves go and take you into new territories. "Red Kingdom Rising" is somewhere in the middle of this.
"Red Kingdom Rising" is the story of Mary Ann and her battle with her abused childhood. She goes back to her old childhood home as a way to work through the memories that are still hurting her, both mentally and physically. In her old home she is met by her mother, who is now very old and obsessed with the occult. Mary Ann's visit to place where her past took place throws her into a dream world where all of her troubles take a physical shape, so that she can literally get to the bottom of her own hell, and hopefully come out on the other side sane.
The story focuses heavily on visuals and metaphors, and I think purely aesthetically it works extremely well. The ideas are interesting and executed as good as possible with the budgetary constraints. It's a perfect example of doing a lot with little, and for that this movie deserves plenty of credit. It has twisted imagery that works with the story, and that will most definitely please the fans of the grotesque. At the same time it stays true to certain clichées of fairy tales (note that my use of the word "cliché" is, in this case, something positive) and gives off just the right vibe for it to work as such, albeit a very dark fairy tale dealing with mature themes.
As far as the story goes, I wasn't as impressed. I mean, I think the story is fairly thought-provoking, and it's far from a bad idea. But the story reveals itself almost as a riddle at times, but the audience are more often than not able to figure it out before the movie gets there. I also feel that maybe they let the visuals control some of the story. Was it at times too extensive in its use of visuals, symbolism and metaphors considering the story? I might not be in the right, but yes, I feel that's the case at certain times. Because of this I wasn't drawn in because I wanted to know what Mary Ann had gone through, but rather to see the visuals.
I want to point out that this might not be a huge flaw in the film, though, as it's a film that is about a woman who works with abused children, she reads fairy tales to them, and the fact that an "inner battle" is needed for her to fight her own demons. The parallels to "Alice in Wonderland" are intentionally obvious, and her past even shows itself as being part of the "Alice in Wonderland" story - one example being the child named Alice, wearing a cat mask. A bigger fan of "Alice in Wonderland" would most likely be able to spot multiple things that are drawn directly from that story. And when you consider this then the way Mary Ann fights her own demons through a fairy tale dream make sense. But personally I felt that the backstory that drove her into the dream wasn't as big of a mystery that the dream made it out to be.
I think "Red Kingdom Rising" is a good movie, with good ideas behind it, and they're executed well. It does let the visuals take charge a lot of the times, but it's up to the individual to decide if that's a good or bad thing. I felt that even though the film is merely 73 minutes long, it still manages to feel like a rather long movie. But if you want to see an independent production that goes all out to create atmosphere, draw you into a psychological game and mess with your childhood stories while also dealing with very mature themes, then you should give this a shot. It could certainly have been handled a hell of a lot worse, and even though I have certain criticism towards it I think it's a film worth checking out. If you want the most visually mindbending "Alice in Wonderland" interpretation, then you should probably go for Švankmajer's version. If you want a very grown-up version, check out "Valerie and Her Week of Wonders". Somewhere in between? "Red Kingdom Rising".