Red Letter Day Movie Review
Written by Ilan Sheady
Released by Epic Pictures
Written and directed by Cameron Macgowan
2019, 76 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest UK Premiere on 23rd August 2019
Dawn Van de Schoot as Melanie Edwards
Hailey Foss as Madison Edwards
Kaeleb Zain Gartner as Timothy Edwards
Roger LeBlanc as Luther Addams
Imagine one day waking up to find a red enveloped letter on your doorstep addressed to you and its contents are a picture of your neighbour and instructions telling you that because their views are mostly in conflict with your own, you have to kill them. It further explains that the neighbour in the picture will receive the same letter informing them that they are to kill you for the same reason. Imagine waking up to find everyone else in your home and everyone in your residential community have also woken up to the same letter. This is Red Letter Day, good luck.
On paper Red Letter Day is a fascinating concept. Similar to The Purge, it is reasonable to assume that there will be an exploration of the psychological effects on a family and on a community when you are informed that your neighbours are different from you and are potentially dangerous. Itʼs not unreasonable to assume that this will be an interesting allegory on how the US and, increasingly, the UK single out people as enemies to our safety and our way of life. It is also reasonable to assume that, like America with the divisiveness Trump has caused and The United Kingdom with Brexit, groups will form, left wing ‘snowflakesʼ facing off against right wing ‘neonazisʼ and the poor centralists caught in the crossfire. Like Stephen Kingʼs The Mist (directed by Frank Darabont) and how the town ‘nut jobʼ rose in status to supermarket religious leader in the matter of minutes, it is reasonable to assume we are going to get some serious critique on mob mentality formed from the dangers of fear-mongering, stubborn politics and strict ideology.
Red Letter Day does none of these things.
Melanie (Dawn Van de Schoot) is a single divorcee and mother of two, her daughter Madison (Hailey Foss) and younger son Timothy (Kaeleb Zain Gartner) living in a brand new Canadian housing community.
When all three receive their personalised letters, both mother and son see it as a weird joke while angsty daughter Madison immediately tears it up without looking, claiming that this is twisted and wonʼt humour the sender by opening it. Recognising his target as the guy living across the street, Timothy goes to investigate from his bedroom window and confirms that everybody in town has indeed received a similar letter. This drives Melanie to abandon her kids to go visit her sister, the target she was selected, to see if they can deal with the ridiculous letters in person. Then, purely to create a potential misunderstanding, Timothy slips a kitchen knife into her handbag for protection without telling her.
The reason that concepts like The Purge and Battle Royale work is because both are set in a fictional time where the government has allowed murder to happen. For a given period or specific event, killing someone is no longer a crime and has no legal consequences. In Johnny Kevorkianʼs Await Further Instructions, characters with obvious power issues relinquish independent thinking and liability in favour of blindly following the commands of a higher authority. However in Red Letter Day nothing has happened to justify completely abandoning a civilised coexistence with your neighbours in exchange for going to prison for murdering someone you have no previous issue with.
In its defence there is an interesting exploration into human behaviour. Melanieʼs sister Alice (Arielle Rombough) is patronising, dismissive and emasculating towards her visibly frustrated beta husband Lewis (Michael Tan). As soon as Lewis artificially discovers the kitchen knife in Melanieʼs bag, he makes the immediate accusation that sheʼs here to kill her sister. Alice instantly becomes a crying and terrified wreck, leaving her husband to valiantly fight for his family's lives and tries to kill Melanie first. Itʼs an interesting turn of events that isnʼt expected given the nature of the characters, but feels like an incredibly unrealistic and change of direction, begging for a ‘that escalated quicklyʼ meme and thus comes across as comical.
Similar to how Batman vs Superman could have all been resolved by Clark just saying ‘Hey Bruce, Lex has my mumʼ, artificial conflict is created with paper-thin justification and unnatural interactions.
Red Letter Day works better as a film you shouldnʼt take too seriously, which is extremely disappointing due to its brilliant hypothetical premise. The film is riddled with interesting questions and setups that never get answers or payoffs. A story about a community that falls into chaos is reduced to three primary locations losing any sense of scale. Overall tone is confusing as itʼs unclear if violence or threats are meant to be serious or comical.
Its biggest crime, however, is in the depiction of Madisonʼs boyfriend Luther (Roger LeBlanc). Introduced as a geek and a horror fan with a heart of gold but ridiculed and insulted by Madisonʼs family for his age and lifestyle. Itʼs easy to make a connection with him and most watching Red Letter Day at a horror festival will too. However, Luther mysteriously dissapears from most of the story and when he finally returns his situation feels personally insulting. Despite that, the film is not without its charms. Gore effects are morbidly enjoyable to see and the look of the film far exceeds whatever budget writer and director Cameron Macgowan raised. It is a genuine shame that the plot doesnʼt live up to the promises the concept makes or explores the deterioration of a community with more detail, but given the quality of its production I doubt weʼll be waiting long before Macgowan gets a bigger budget allowing world building more effectively.
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