RED LETTER DAY
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to both Kaila Hier and Rebecca Nicholson from Exile PR for allowing me early access to an online screener of the new Horror/Thriller feature “Red Letter Day”, Written and Directed by Cameron Macgowan (Black Hills). Red Letter Day is set in the mundane suburbia of Aspen Ridge, where newly divorced mother of two, Melanie Edwards (played by Dawn Van de Schoot) is adjusting to the single life with her two teenage kids Madison and Timothy (Hailey Foss and Kaeleb Zain Gartner). Things take a violent turn in the quiet community when people start receiving mysterious red letters instructing them to kill one of their neighbors. The film also stars Roger LeBlanc, Arielle Rombough, Michael Tan, and Peter Strand Rumpel.
In my endeavors to track down Red Letter Day, I stumbled upon Canadian-based filmmaker Cameron Macgowan’s early and impressive western short “Black Hills” *see here* https://vimeo.com/78211442. He’s got some good ideas and a keen eye for the visual, as is evident in his debut feature-length film Red Letter Day, a speedy, 75-minute horror built around paranoia. Cinematographer, Rhett Miller is the primary reason that Red Letter Day looks so unbelievably sharp. You seldom see independent films that look this good. From the drone footage overlooking the homey community (reminiscent of the one in Zack Synder’s Dawn Of The Dead remake) and well-maintained properties, to well-cut establishing shots and early action, everything is set off on the right trajectory. All the footage is really tightly framed, gentle dolly moves are aplenty, and the tracking shots look as smooth as I’ve seen. Furthermore, there are a number of effective dramatic quick cuts throughout. The audio track is consistently clean and Jono Grant’s, “Elfman-Esq” offbeat score has that Brothers Grimm feel. That said, we’re treated to an intense theme right off the bat which was an unexpected surprise.
Performances across the board are serviceable without necessarily reaching any great heights. I think Schoot gives the most well-rounded showing, and she’s able to hit the emotional beats a little more consistently than her younger counterparts (as one might expect). What’s glaringly obvious about Macgowan is that he’s obviously first and foremost a film fan, and it shows through his willingness to make self-aware references (something I personally don’t mind). He’s deserving of credit for finding an interesting point at which to reintroduce a previously established plot device, as well as taking Red Letter Day’s notion of playing our basic fears of each other against us. Some viewers may see it as a weakness or a plot hole but I found it interesting that the faction behind the “day” never actually presented an ultimatum regarding the request, yet chaos still ensues due to people’s own self-preservation. Stacy Wegner is a name I hope to hear more of in the future as her special fx work here is of a very high standard, most notably the tongue prosthetic. Red Letter Day has a few surprisingly gory moments, one of which comes earlier than you’d expect. The blood spray is all practical and the inventive kills come in the form of both utilizing foods and kitchen utensils.
If I’m being nitpicky, I’d say that the casting of Gartner alongside Schoot and Foss feels somewhat of amiss. Now that’s not to say that he doesn’t do a reasonable job in the role of Timothy (especially with it being his first feature film appearance), minus perhaps a few inconsistencies with timing and delivery, it’s just that he doesn’t necessarily look like one of the family. Several characters go through dramatic emotional responses throughout but unfortunately, the actors don’t quite hit their mark, that and there’s an attempt at a grandiose story Melanie recalls about a car accident involving a deer. Macgowan tries to highlight the correlation in the family’s current predicament but it falls a bit flat. A pet peeve of mine has always been characters who supposedly have their mouths gagged but there’s nothing actually preventing them from just letting said gag fall out! For the love of God, use some duct tape or something if you want that plot device to be taken seriously. Even with its relatively predictable finish, Red Letter Day had the opportunity to add a “Purge” like layer to proceedings but never truly capitalized on it. Early on, Melanie calls the police after receiving the threatening red letters, and let’s just say, she’s met with a nonchalant attitude by the officer. I’m not sure if it crossed Macgowan’s mind that he had a potentially mysterious angle there that he could’ve been far more suggestive with. Is the man on the other end of the line actually a police officer? Are they going to look into it? Things could’ve taken another turn for the worse if the authorities were actually introduced.
Red Letter Day is an admirable debut feature-length outing from a young Canadian filmmaker in Cameron Macgowan. It’s premise reminiscent of entertaining films like “The Purge” and “The Box”, and the production value is certainly a huge asset. The cinematography looks superb, the score is eccentric and multi-layered, and the performances are generally decent. There are a few not so subtle movie references in here for all you lovers of the self-aware, that and Wegner’s quality practical fx further elevate a number of the entertaining action sequences. I can’t help but feel that Gartner’s look and persona didn’t quite fit the Edwards family mold, that and a few of the weightier moments don’t really hit home. I would’ve liked to have seen a little more carnage and suspense incorporated throughout, but Red Letter Day more than delivers on what genre fans will be wanting from an independent horror film of this nature. The film will be released on the 26th of October and now you can check out the official trailer below!
Red Letter Day – 6.5/10