RED DOT. Sweden, 2021. Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Nanna Blondell, Anastasios Soulis, Kalled Mustonen, Tomas Bergström. Written by Alain Darborg with Per Dickson. Directed by Alain Darborg.

   Ever since John Boorman terrified us with backwoods horror in Deliverance (1972), there has been a template for filmmakers to follow. All you need are city dwellers or suburbanites who venture out of their comfort zones into the rural unknown and encounter a pair of dangerous men (it’s almost always a pair). The city dweller could easily be a female college student, such as in Rust Creek (2018), which I reviewed here. Or it could be a group of students, such in the underappreciated horror gem Wrong Turn (2021), reviewed here, in which the collegians encounter a pack of backwoods cultists.

   In the Swedish thriller Red Dot now streaming on Netflix, it’s an interracial professional couple from Stockholm that gets the hinterland horror treatment. Workaholic engineer David (Anastasios Soulis) and medical student Nadja (Nanna Blondell) are having a rough go at in their relationship. What started off as a promising romance has turned into drudgery; complicating matters is the fact that Nadja is pregnant. A major detail that she has chosen to not yet disclose to her husband. Despite their squabbles, it’s clear that the audience is supposed to identify with these two yuppies. They’re educated, career driven, and are meant to represent a progressive, open Sweden. And they have a cute dog. You get the picture.

   The same can’t be said for the two redneck brothers the couple encounters at a gas station along the way to their Northern Lights camping trip. Unlike David and Nanja, these two men come across as crass, dirty, and reactionary. When David spots a deer’s head in the brothers’ pickup truck, he recoils with disgust. He is so frazzled that he accidentally slams into the pickup on the way out of the petrol station. This sets off what appears to be a chain reaction, a cat-and-mouse game of escalating incidents between the professional couple and the backwoods ruffians.

   Matters finally come to a head one cold, solitary night. In their tent for the evening, the couple notice a red dot – like from a laser pointer – aimed directly at them. What is it? A joke? Kids? Or something far more sinister like from a gun? Have the brothers really taken it to this extreme? What follows is a violent, occasionally off-putting series of events, in which our two nominal heroes find themselves hunted down like prey.

   But there is a major plot twist, one that I think an astute observer will be able to see coming from a mile away. One I am not quite sure that I feel was handled correctly. It’s a daring way of approaching narrative film-making, with the third act occasionally feeling as if it might be from an entirely different movie.

   All told, Red Dot is a periodically compelling, if somewhat incomplete, thriller that upends audience expectations and upends the Deliverance template. Does it work? I’m not entirely sure. But it’s a daring attempt. Mind you: this is a Swedish production, not an American one. So don’t go with the expectation of witnessing a final girl moment, a redemption arc, or a cathartic ending. This graphically violent film is downbeat to its core.