A quiet suburban neighborhood. The sun is rising as the soft chirping of birds and sleepy dogs sound off. Light reflects off the tiny droplets left by morning dew and people slowly awake from their slumber to the smell of fresh coffee. It’s peaceful, it’s serene, it’s the dream. Wouldn’t you like to live here? In RED LETTER DAY, written and directed by Cameron Macgowan, a recently divorced mother (Dawn Van de Schoot) and her two kids (Kaeleb Zain Gartner and Hailey Foss) try to acclimate their life in a new neighborhood where they begin to receive red letters instructing them to kill or be killed.
The film starts with an opening scene of a man running down the idyllic neighborhood sidewalk. He’s running with a manic sense of urgency, grabbing red letters out of mailboxes. Stumbling and cutting his foot on glass, he continues to run, leaving a bloody trail of footprints in his wake. As he arrives at the 5th or 6th house, the door opens suddenly and he is cut down by a shotgun blast, followed by his elderly neighbor slowly dragging his body inside his home.
This is how the pace is set for RED LETTER DAY. I have mixed feelings about the movie. The cast does a great job creating the family dynamic, but at times the dialogue felt really forced, almost to the point of it feeling like a script reading where they are trying the words on for size. There are also a lot of moments that are overly heavy with dialogue. With that being said, what holds the primary cast back, in terms of dialogue, is made up for in the way in which they interact with each other. Dawn Van de Schoot does a really lovely job of portraying a protective mother trying to deal with two teenagers in the middle of a Purge-like crisis. As the character of Melanie Edwards, I enjoyed watching Dawn Van de Schoot as she had a cool mom vibe. She is the kind of mom that is probably more of a friend to you then you need, but is also ready to lay down the lawn if need be. I would love to see her in more action-driven horror roles as she definitely has the presence to jump in and really tackle more of those roles.
The story centers around letters that are being sent to the entire neighborhood. Each person receives a picture and something about that person. They are told that they have opposing views and that they must kill that person before that person kills them. This is apparently where the whole city falls into this mentality of I have to kill this person first. The story itself was hard for me to buy into because there weren’t any stakes. On a lesser scale, it’s like sitting in front of a piece of cake and having someone tell you to eat the cake first before the person next to you eats it. When you both say that neither of you is going to eat it, what is the motivation for people to continue? In Melanie’s case, it’s understandable because there is a bit of a miscommunication with her son that leads them on the path of killing, which is what the Red Letter wants you them to do. But on a whole, I just couldn’t buy into the idea that the entire city fell for this scam when they could just hang out at home and…not do it.
I did appreciate that Cameron Macgowan didn’t gloss over the fact that they were in this mess because of Melanie’s son, Timothy (Kaeleb Zain Gartner). Him slipping the knife into her bag 100% set off a chain of events that fucked up everyone’s day. Overall, though, it was pretty hard for me to suspend my disbelief. I will say though, they did an amazing job with the practical and special effects. My mouth was open and jaw dropped from gore happiness. The attention to detail, when it came to the various kills, as well as when someone was dramatically hurt, were some of the best that I saw from any film at Screamfest. The action, as well as the close quarter fight sequences, were equally good in quality. So my hats off to that entire team as they really killed it and were able to breathe life into the story.
All that said, I really wanted this film to be tighter. It’s clear that there is enthusiasm behind this film and I guarantee the next one will be even stronger because the bones are there. Movies are damn hard to get made, so anytime someone creates something and puts it on the screen, they should be proud of themselves. If you’re a fan of movies like The Purge or You’re Next, you will really enjoy and appreciate the film’s attempt to break into that fold. Just make sure to check your mailbox before going to check out RED LETTER DAY.