VOD film review: The Red Turtle
Neil Alcock | On 25, Sep 2017
Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
Cast: Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson, Baptiste Goy, Axel Devillers, Barbara Beretta
First things first: The Red Turtle is not, thankfully, a spin-off from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in which Raphael goes solo. Written and directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit and co-produced by Studio Ghibli, this is something quite different from that and, frankly, anything else. A seamless marriage of European and Asian sensibilities, it’s a hopelessly romantic, dreamily inscrutable and dialogue-free fairy tale that leaves you baffled, but in a warm and glowing kind of way, like that’s just the way things are. And literally nobody says “Cowabunga”.
A nameless man is washed ashore under unexplained circumstances, and his desert island odyssey is as mysterious as his backstory. Attempting to leave the island on a painstakingly constructed raft, his efforts are hampered no fewer than three times by a large, crimson, sea-dwelling testudine. Nature, it seems, does not want him to leave. Thwarted by the turtle, the man seeks violent revenge, and to reveal any more would be to spoil the first of a number of surreal and surprising events.
With its silent-movie approach and stubborn refusal to explain its unexpected plot twists, The Red Turtle plays out like a woozy dream. It tells its story slowly and peacefully, apart from a couple of heart-in-mouth moments whose terror is only amplified by the calmness surrounding them; at points you may need to remind yourself to breathe out. By and large, though, it’s an entrancing watch; the kind of thing you could put on after a hectic day at work that would not only calm you right down, but leave you with a deep sense of wistful contentment.
While certain plot points may leave you slack-jawed with bewilderment, themes of family and mortality eventually emerge from the depths of Dudok de Wit and Pascale Ferran’s unpredictable script. The circle of life and the unavoidable nature of, well, nature itself weigh heavily on the shoulders of the characters, and man’s relationship with the natural world is a motif intrinsically soaked into every frame.
Dudok de Wit’s designs are simple but gorgeously animated, and while the premise necessitates vast, empty backgrounds, that allows the animation to breathe, pulling you into its carefully-crafted world. Ghibli’s influence is clear to see in both the dreamlike script and the appearance of some enormously entertaining crabs, who are reminiscent of Spirited Away’s soot sprites or the bobble-headed kodama of Princess Mononoke.
A triumph of originality and unpredictability, The Red Turtle is a weird and wonderful lyrical fable that’s likely to exasperate anyone hoping for a Disney-esque morality tale. If that sounds like your cup of tea, dive right in.