Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Red Letter Day

My notes on Red Letter Day

This gruesome satire takes cues from the Twilight Zone episode ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street’ – one of many Rod Serling sketch ideas that seem all the more resonant sixty years on – and works itself up into being a very Canadian take on the Purge franchise.  Even at seventy-five minutes it feels padded – you can safely nod off during the anecdote about the road trip and the wounded deer – but it has a terrific premise, ferociously well worked out, and an excellent performance from Dawn Van de Schoot as an unwilling tiger mommy.

The Edwards family – just-divorced-and-still-pissed-off Melanie (Van de Schoot), goth-inclined teenage daughter Madison (Hailey Foss) and smart aleck kid Timothy (Kaeleb Zain Gartner) – have just moved into the upscale Aspen Ridge district, which has as much the feel of a sinister social experiment as a neighbourhood.  Madison is dating older guy Luther (Roger LeBlanc), whose favourite films are Re-Animator and Weekend at Bernie’s II, and the three credibly get on each other’s nerves.  A typical Friday morning begins when identical sealed red envelopes are delivered to all three of them – and to everyone else in the area – which identify someone else in the locality and suggest that the recipient kill that person before they are killed by them.

Melanie gets her only local friend Alice (Arielle Rombough), who is married to uptight asshole Lewis (Michael Tan) and ‘votes conservative’ but otherwise seems sound and reasonable … Timothy gets a weird cat-walking neighbour … and Madison tears up her letter.  When the cops are little help, Melanie decides to walk over to Alice’s to talk it over – and Timothy slips a carving knife into her bag without her knowing it, which of course means that an amiable chat escalates into a stabathon when Lewis won’t let Melanie answer a call from her besieged kids.  From there on, writer-director Cameron Macgowan downplays the reasonable talks and shows a rising tide of violence getting out of control, as a masked group called the Unknown claim responsibility for the letters and too many stressed regular folks reach for weapons.

This being Canada, there’s little of the racial or even social element featured in the American Purge films – these people get ticked off over tinier things like garbage on lawns – and the outbreak is caused by middle-class dilettante wankers in masks who want to pose as rebels (one gets a hilariously on-the-nose talking to from the heroine, after she’s administered a hideous wound to his face) rather than sinister establishment forces.  It hurries through its ‘one bad day’ storyline, with a few dangling plot ends, but pays off effectively.  Of course, it has a hideous relevance to the way things are in 2019 – without Canada even being stuck with Brexit or Trump – but it works a seam of suburban Lord of the Flies horror that felt uncomfortably appropriate when the Zone was on the air and remains tragically fresh.

Here’s the FrightFest listing.





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