“This film questions if anyone could be triggered by alluring yet empty declarations by masked groups promising salvation from society”
“Love thy neighbour” is a strained sentiment in this horror flick. When a batch of red enveloped letters are delivered to a seemingly harmless neighbourhood, their residents find themselves a part of a murderous social movement. Tasked with the murder of one their neighbours, specifically chosen for their disparate character, the residents of this estate must decide if they’re willing to play along, all the while unsure if their letter partner has already made that decision for them.
Similar to the Purge series, this film examines human capability when their restrained hatred is granted free rein. However, Red Letter Day takes a slightly different angle and explores the gory results of paranoia and mistrust. Do you really know what your neighbour is capable of? How about your friend? How about your family?
These gruesome invitations were dispatched by a low rent Anonymous online movement. With their home-made paper-mache masks and electronic voice disguiser, they launch a murderous commentary, intent on revealing the true, animalistic nature of the average suburbian resident. Unable to hide behind their polished personas or within their equally manicured properties, the resident’s safe haven becomes a war zone.
The main family we follow consists of mother, Melanie (Dawn Van De Schoot), youngest son, Timothey (Kaeleb Zain Gartner), and rebelling daughter, Madison (Hailey Foss). New to suburbia and fresh from a recent divorce, this family seems fairly typical – their relationship to one another is friendly, with the only tension coming from Madison and her relationship with older boyfriend, Luther (Roger LeBlanc). Watching their progression from flippant to terrified is natural and resonates with how most people would react in such a situation. However, some questionable character choices, particularly from teenage daughter, Madison, seemed awkward and lack the suitable substance to be regarded as accurate character motivation with key plot developments depending on her nonsensical actions. It’s common for characters in horror to make seemingly stupid decisions, often fuelled by sheer panic, and like a trapped gazelle who panickedly flees into the pursuing pride’s trap, these wild actions can be explainable by the situation. However, it is very obvious as a viewer when these character actions seem realistic or manufactured for an easy plot device. Unfortunately, in the case of Madison’s character, actions seemed ingenuine and hindered the quality of the script.
The acting ability of the full cast certainly ranged. It’s fairly obvious that this production is the first for many on cast, with a few clunky line reads and a subtlety that hits harder than a meat cleaver to the head. However, the acting is by far means terrible and certainly doesn’t completely ruin the viewing experience. For every misstep there is also a likeability in these characters which, in all honesty, is often missing in other, perhaps better, performed films. Engaging audience empathy is a talent often missing in some horrors (particularly in early 2000’s slashers) so credit should at least be given to this cast for achieving that.
The film tries to discuss online persona hypocrisy, declaring this movement would tear away the perfect image people have presented of themselves online and in person. Throughout the film there are montages of people vlogging their experience of Red Letter Day, with some content going as far as to document their attacks. Although the film doesn’t delve as far into this topic as it could have, it does still explore some interesting points about coexisting “irl” with people who hold vastly different ideals (an example in the film being democrat vs republican). It’s easy to attack someone different from yourself online from behind the safety of a keyboard but would you be so willing to do so with a shotgun? How easily can people be pushed to violence by a toxic online movement? The stereotype of someone who can be cajoled by alt online groups to acts of violence is a young, white, lonely, angry, man; but this film questions if anyone could be triggered by alluring yet empty declarations by masked groups promising salvation from society.
Though this film perhaps doesn’t execute its social commentary with grace, and certain characters come off as laboured, Red Letter Day is the first feature film from writer and director Cameron Macgowan and does show promise. The practical gore effects were effective and for a film that clearly had a lower budget, it’s not obvious from the film appearance. The progression of bubbling mistrust mounting until boiling into chaos was measured well and if the characters were more carefully constructed as people rather than pawns to move the plot along, then this could be an interesting horror commentary. As it was, Red Letter Day was fine. Something that could warrant a second viewing with friends, even if it is just to gawk over how much Van De Schoot looks like Laura Linney.
Dir.: Cameron Macgowan
Writer: Cameron Macgowan
Cast: Dawn Van De Schoot, Kaeleb Zain Gartner, Hailey Foss
Production: Awkward Silencio, RLD Productions
Debuted in UK at FrightFest