Red Letter Day. 2019.
Directed by Cameron Macgowan.
Starring Dawn Van de Schoot, Hailey Foss, Kaeleb Zain Gartner, Roger LeBlanc, Arielle Rombough, Michael Tan, and Peter Strand Rumpel.
While adjusting to a new life in a quiet suburban community, a recently divorced mother and her two teens receive mysterious red letters instructing them each to kill or be killed.
The premise of a suburban bloodbath is an enticing one, but Red Letter Day isn’t the Americana battle royale trailers depict. Cameron Macgowan’s mailbox massacre gets hung up on social media obsessions without adding to a base assessment that’s been beaten raw by superior films like Tragedy Girls, Unfriended: Dark Web, the list goes on. What’s worse, streaming distractions never permit “Red Letter Day” to slaughter thy neighbor on a widespread scale. Unfortunately, this is one of those instances where ambition and concept never crumble the barriers of indie budgets, forcing an insular take on a far grander development. An uninspired slice of disturbia mayhem, sans some spilled blood.
Melanie (Dawn Van de Schoot), an Alpine Ridge community member, awakens to what should be another monotonous morning. Turns out daughter Madison (Hailey Foss) and son Tim (Kaeleb Zain Gartner) both have the day off, so plans of family hanging begin – but immediately hit pause. Red envelopes are discovered in the mail, addressed to each Edwards resident. Inside is a letter with instructions to kill an intended target or be killed in-turn. A hoax or prank, right? Unfortunately not, as a collective dubbed “Unknown” confirm their rules are oh-so-very real.
Yes, Macgowan’s underground anarchists are dubbed the “Unknown,” wear generic paper mache masks, and use basic voice modulators as cover. Their mailers are curated to pit polar opposite citizens against one another based on their online profiles. The idea is to stir chaos, expose lives outside internet connections, and instigate combat between humans within five kilometers of one another – because. For fame? For viewers? To show how screens have corroded society? We’ve seen this story told before, and with plenty more passionate antagonism. This is department store brand fire-starting.
Jumping into the action of Red Letter Day, monetary restrictions become frustratingly visible. An early battle between Melanie and her best friend’s hubby, Lewis (Michael Tan), reveals two constants. One: no actors here are stunt trained and lunges whiff harder than intoxicated frat kids trying to hit a plastic ball during their seventeenth round of “Dizzy Bat.” Two: Macgowan proves an adaptable sneak by minimizing effects work such as having Melanie stab said aggressor in the neck – through an entire roast chicken. A goofy, sticky sight gag that hides any penetration of steel through flesh, negating an entire makeup ordeal in place of blood spewing from the cooked bird. Violence is gruesome – exposed bone fractures, split open jawbones – but infrequent and, as shown by the mangled mandible, again hampered by floppy prosthetics of lesser quality.
The issue remains, all Red Letter Day has to boast is a handful of gnarly wounds. Oddly enough, barely any deaths occur. A few fights lead to emergency room gruesomeness, but other than that, Macgowan’s working on basic levels of cinematic entertainment. Like, *of course* the film’s crackpot “Unknown” who Melanie confronts lives in his parents’ basement, walls plastered with horror movie posters and paraphernalia (because all lunatics love horror). Character motivations and dialogue might be worse, from Lewis’ immediate berating of Melanie to Tim’s fart jokes and telescope booby gazing – legit flatulence humor followed by perv-out “comedy.” Exposition is weak and chemistry worse than a Nick At Night original canceled after two episodes, making it hard to empathize with the warzone scenario unfolding.
Make note, Red Letter Day is focused on Melanie’s survival as a single parent attempting to protect both her children from their designated marks. Expanded views into a world gone mad over “red letters” is nothing more than YouTube montages of vloggers reacting to the commands in their own ways, from frothing into webcams to putting on a seductive dance of mockery towards those “Unknowns” (idk). There’s so much intrigue going on *around* Melanie, it’s a shame that her “Edwards clan” arc – staying alive until police arrive – never grips in a way that satisfies via microcosm containment. Housewives, shotguns, boyfriends nicknamed “Lucifer” whose favorite movie is Re-Animator – never, EVER as compelling a murder spree as suggested.
Red Letter Day never succeeds in splattering cul-de-sacs bloody red nor does it provide fiery commentary on our smartphone addictions. Cameron Macgowan has an idea, but neither the means to execute nor the vision to deliver a tooth-and-nail struggle against societal breakdowns. Every beat is lifted from another film’s playbook, and not even their most complicated formations. From made-for-television scoring (dull Desperate Housewives tunes) to hollow character dummies to effects that’re fun enough but hardly centerpieces. I wanted better things for Red Letter Day, but alas, home ain’t where the horrors lurk in this pulled-punches thriller.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).