When you pass by your neighbor, do you ever get a stinging urge to break their face in with a mallet? Do they have pretentious mannerisms, bad waste management, and constantly crowd up their lawn (or hallway, for us apartment dwelling folk) with boxes and bags that literally have another four feet to go before being in the proper disposal container? If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you’d be correct and justified in thinking so, and you’d also probably be a big fan Red Letter Day...
…Writer/director Cameron Mcgowan’s Red Letter Day leans heavily into the “red” part of the title right from the get-go. Containing more ‘red’ than the mediocre Taylor Swift album and Jake Gyllenhaal’s subsequent post-breakup wine drinking problem, we find ourselves with several categories of the color everywhere: blood, smoking jackets, flannel pajamas, envelopes, and probably other things I missed. The main story arch begins immediately, with a man (wearing the aforementioned pajamas and smoking jacket) checking his mail, finding an ominous red envelope, panicking, running to his neighbor’s front door mailbox to possibly exchange or steal their mail, and being greeted with a shotgun to the sternum. Here’s where the gore-aspect starts – at about two minutes in, mind you – and it’s awesome. It’s established early on that practical effects will be used and used very well. More on that later.
Following the mail-mixup-man-running-montage-murder, we’re transitioned into a TV advertisement for the surrounding community, complete with the shotgun-guy watering plants on his front porch after he conveniently sprayed the blood off the concrete. It’s all smiles and good intentions, complete with positive slogans, aerial shots of the community, and a family with a very-pregnant mom (AKA a “two-for-one” in serial killer-speak). Shortly after this slightly off-traction break, the story centers in on our main characters, the Edwards family: Mel (Dawn Van De Schoot), the mom, Madison (Hailey Foss), the goth/emo daughter, and Tim (Kaeleb Zain Gartner), the son.
The family recently moved into the neighborhood due to a divorce, though the backstory is never expanded on beyond knowing the Dad-character has the following attributes:
-has no name
-passed on his genetics to his son, Tim
-is a dick (Mel’s opinion)
During a calm breakfast, there’s standard banter between mother and son, and reference to the daughter who’s dating “an older dude”, Luther (Roger Leblanc), who’s secretly spent the night with Madison. A quick scene shows Luther and Madison cuddling in bed, talking about couple-stuff. You know, your standard: what’s your favorite band? If you could kill one person you know, who would it be and how would you do it? The latter really put Madison off (FORESHADOWING?!?!?!), but she dismisses it, makes her boyfriend sneak out of the window, and joins her family for breakfast.
Eventually, Tim goes to check the mail, find three red letters addressed to the family, and passes on looking into it. Mel is intrigued by the letters, opens them and we find there’s some kind of crazy Purge-like push where each person is given another person to kill. The choice is based off internet searches and, apparently, aligns the potential victims with someone who holds contradictory views based on their online activity. Sure. I see people post things on Facebook and want to punch them in the face. Why not also add in a kitchen knife?
As the film continues, it’s very clear the script is lacking in believable dialogue and the plot does not have much direction. The general setting and concept is there - kill or be killed – and as this dawns on the family, along with the police dismissing any kind of concern, they take their measures and face them head-on. With a short runtime, the film doesn’t waste time with character or tension building, instead sprinting right towards the conflict. The lack of tension emphasizes the “comedy” part of its horror-comedy tag, though aside from a few witty lines from Kaeleb Zain Gartner’s Tim, most of the comedy is in the ridiculous death scenes.
The practical effects, as I mentioned before, are clearly the highlight of this film. Complete with poultry-penetrating throat stabs and compound fractures, blood is everywhere without getting to the point of being squeamish. Unfortunately, this is about the only thing the film gets right. Throughout the entirety of the runtime, the score sounds like it was pulled from a teen drama on CW, basically killing any ambient vibe. Dialogue seems forced with some above-par acting helping to keep the momentum. Leading quickly into what seems like a generalized statement on social media, the underlying message – about communication and consequences in the digital age – is insincere, never actually exploring the theme, and simply using it as a basis for the plot.
Red Letter Day has heavy emphasis on the color and use of blood – in a fun way – but is misguided in nearly every other aspect. It’s held together by a short runtime and over-the-top violence, but never reaches a true climax as the characters and dialogue seem to be an afterthought. Overall, for gore-hounds or big horror-comedy fans, this could be worth a watch based on the fact you don’t have to commit a lot of time.
Red Letter Day arrives on VOD from Epic Pictures on November 5th.
By Zach Gorecki