My notes on the SyFy original monster movie Day of Reckoning – out today in the US as a VOD/DVD release.One day, gargoyle-like creatures erupt from the bowels of the Earth and slaughter everyone they can get to around the world. The phenomenon seems to be triggered by an eclipse but lasts a full day – then the monsters go away as inexplicably as they came. Fifteen years pass from the ‘day of reckoning’, and the conditions that presaged the attack start to recur. In a possibly satiric scenario, the US government has put defensive positions around holes in the ground and a few nutcases go around saying that the creatures are demons and a judgement on sinful humanity. Of course, after a soap opera stretch in which we meet a bunch of Los Angeles characters – teacher Laura (Heather McComb), her engineer ex-husband David (Jackson Hurst), their skateboarding son Tyler(Jay Jay Warren), his orphaned-by-monsters girlfriend Maddy (Hana Hayes) – and catch up with their grouses, the CGI monsters pour into the skies and out of the ground again and it’s a typical SyFy movie race for illusory safety set mostly in disused industrial structures pretending to be survival shelters and military bases, with the LA storm drains (familiar from Them!, Point Blank and It’s Alive) used as a speedy route out of the city.
Screenwriter Gregory Gieras (Big Ass Spider!) takes the familiar approach (cf: Sharknado) of using the huge crisis to bring a divorced couple together and have them bond with estranged (and, frankly, obnoxious) kids while all the peripheral characters – starting with the weedy guy who Laura finally agrees to date (Randy Vasquez) – get horribly creamed. I’m not sure whether it really makes sense to deliver proper performances under these circumstances, especially since I am sure I’m a lot less interested in whether this couple reunite than I am in where the heck the monsters came from (no explanation is forthcoming) and why they only hang around for a day. Welcome guest stars Raymond J.Barry and Barbara Crampton at least bring gravitas to their roles as survivalist Uncle Ted and his wife Stella – he goes down swinging an axe as the monsters (well-designed but indifferently-realised) pile on him while she goes red-eyed and snarly as an infection sets in (suggesting she might be transforming). As his wife dies, Barry does his best Brando impersonation, shouting ‘Stella! Stella!’ while surrounded by millennials who don’t get the reference. To keep the plot moving, the group are joined by a loose cannon corporal (Nick Gomez), who see-saws between wanting to do anything to stay alive and believing humanity deserves to be wiped out – and keeps making bad moves which put good people in jeopardy. As in the 1963 film of Day of the Triffids, salt water is effective against the monsters – so are rocksalt shotgun rounds and a few other conventional weapons.
At one point, glimpses of Big Ass Spider! are seen on a handy TV, which prompted me to wonder whether a world which had suffered an actual invasion by monsters would need to make low-rent comedy-horror monster movies … but also to note how unusually sombre this is, downplaying the usual humour and taking family soap seriously (if not with anything like depth). Gomez gives the standard Asshole Who Makes Things Worse character a low-key intensity which keeps his scenes edgy and unpredictable (until he gets got by a giant caterpillar thing). Unusually for a SyFy effort, it’s not an obvious imitation of anything – though there are trace elements from Reign of Fire, Tremors, JeruZalem (from the same production stable) and Pacific Rim, and the whole set-up scarcely counts as original. Directed by Joel Novoa.