FILM REVIEW: RED LETTER DAY
Looking for a fresh start in a new community, a recently divorced mother and her two teenager kids receive some cryptic letters in the mail that assign each of them a neighbor to kill, before that same neighbor kills them. Considering the premise, it is tempting (and even fair) to add this one to the ever growing list of contemporary suburbia-horror movies in the vein of predecessors like THE PURGE (2013) and MOM AND DAD (2017). To its credit, RED LETTER DAY does manage to stand on its own with its playful stab at the polarization induced by social media and the importance of family.
As expected, RED LETTER DAY opens with your standard establishing shots of rows of seemingly quaint Mcmansions. However, don’t get too comfortable with the familiarity offered by cookie-cutter suburbia. Before even showing the films title card, shit goes off with a “bang”. The bloody footprints juxtaposed on the benign suburban sidewalk was certainly a nice touch.
Unaware of the creeping violence outside, we meet our lead- mama bear Melanie (Dawn Van de Schoot) and her two teens, snarky beta-male Timothy (Kaeleb Zain Gartner) and rebellious daughter Madison (Hailey Foss), an amalgamation of every SABBATH-loving girl I had a crush on in high school. It’s important to note that these three characters are the crux of the entire film. No matter how chaotic or blood soaked, everything else happening outside their home is more or less peripheral. Thus, if the characters don’t work, this violently absurd story certainly won’t either. I’d contend that RED LETTER DAY writer/director Cameron Macgowan was well aware of this. That said, it makes a valiant and mostly effective effort to flesh out each role. At times the dialogue does seem a bit lengthy and forced for the sake of exposition, but it is forgivable since by the end of the first act I accepted these as real well-hashed characters with a believable dynamic.
Light spoiler ahead –
After a brief stint with denial, the family soon learns the magnitude of just what in the hell is going on. It is revealed that the ominous red letters were part of a depraved viral challenge instigated by a group of organized internet nihilists (think 4Chan trolls with the messaging tactics of Anonymous). With this realization, panic ensues and they learn just how fast their quiet neighborhood can devolve into an upper middle-class hellscape.
Tonally RED LETTER DAY could have done a better job picking a lane. At select times throughout the film, it takes a strong turn for the dramatic, which is not necessarily unwarranted. However, when these scenes compete with the more frequent tongue-in-cheek humor and look-away gore, it came off a bit schmaltzy and shoe-horned. Regardless, when the tone does swing back to the serious side, Dawn Van de Schoot makes the material work with a truly stand out performance.
Canadian philosopher, Marshall McLuhan famously claimed – “The medium is the message”. More specifically, the medium in which the message is received is far more impactful on society than the content of the message itself. Whether intentional or not, RED LETTER DAY takes this concept up a notch and explores it in a barrage of heartfelt, but still blood-splattered shenanigans. With a butcher knife in one hand and a meat clever in the other, RED LETTER DAY gleefully prods at the current state of social media culture, ageism, and personal politics while satirizing what would happen if we unleashed the worst sides of our online personas into a real world “neighborly” context. Thankfully, it’s more fun than it is preachy.
“With a butcher knife in one hand and a meat cleaver in the other, RED LETTER DAY gleefully prods at the current state of social media culture.”
3 Tombstones out of 5…