23rd Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘Red Letter Day’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Dawn Van de Schoot, Hailey Foss, Kaeleb Zain Gartner, Roger LeBlanc, Arielle Rombough, Michael Tan | Written and Directed by Cameron Macgowan

red-letter-day-poster

Adjusting to a new life in suburban Aspen Ridge, a recently divorced mother receives mysterious letters instructing her and her teenage children to slaughter the people pictured in their correspondence before they can kill them. Paranoia and chaos ensues as the family attempts to rationally deal with an irrational situation. Making matters worse, the local law enforcement, already ineffective and patronizing, are unresponsive to calls for police aid after they are quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of community participants in the murderous mayhem.

I’m not going to lie, it’s obvious that Red Letter Day takes its influence from the Purge franchise AND the current political climate not only in the US but across the globe. To say otherwise is just folly… Though the idea of pitting neighbour versus neighbour also echoes Fukusaku Kinji’s Battle Royale. Ultimately, however, Red Letter Day is (sadly) the lesser of the three.

In fact Red Letter Day cannot help but be compared to The Purge – after all both films have a very similar premise: the idea that one day a year people get to unleash their ID, their primitive and instinctive personality traits and reek havoc on the world. In this case in a very timely “us vs. them” isolationist manner. However whereas The Purge franchise touched upon politics, racial tension and the social divides in society, Red Letter Day is less focused. Macgowan’s film only HINTS at ideas of social divide, even though that’s something so prescient given the current politic climate; but it seems to spend more time spotlighting the idea of media driving behaviour – the masked perpetrators seemingly homaging the Guy Fawkes mask wearing Anonymous – and focusing on the family dynamic at the core of the story.

Shame then that this particular family is incredibly unlikeable. They don’t actually do anything to be unlikeable, it just feels like there’s was a disconnect in the performances and the characterisation. And the behaviours the family exhibit is both annoying and frustrating – so much so that I wouldn’t have minded if either child was killed off during the course of the film! Hailey Foss’ portrayal of daughter Madison is bizarrely insincere, with a seemingly unseen context given to the actress but not revealed to the audience – at least I hope that’s the case. If not this is one of the worst portrayal of angst-ridden teen in a horror film for a LONG time. Kaeleb Zain Gartner’s performance as Timothy isn’t much better. Yes, he plays the pre-letter aspect of his teenage character well but come the switch-up, as the consequences of the titular red letters unfolds, his performance errs on the side of whiny VERY annoying brat. It’s only Dawn Van de Schoot as the family matriach Melanie that holds this film together and it’s a joy to watch her performance as a mother pushed to the limit to defend herself and even moreso her children (even if they are annoying brats).

What Red Letter Day does do above and beyond The Purge is mix laughs with all the mayhem and bloodshed (for there is PLENTY of bloodshed); and what actually provides the biggest laugh of this film is the idea that this is happening in Canada. Canada, the politest place on the planet. In a gated-like community filled with cookie-cutter houses, manicured lawns and what SHOULD be an idyllic lifestyle no less. The very idea that Canadians of all people, given the license to kill that the red letters afford them, would gleefully massacre their neighbours is easily the most wonderful aspect of Macgowan’s film; and the satirical nature of that very prospect thankfully also offsets any failings the rest of the film has.

*** 3/5

The ‘Burbs meets The Purge, Red Letter Day screened at this years Arrow Video Frightfest on Friday August 23rd 2019.

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