I Watched a Horror Movie So Boring I Forgot I Watched It
It was late in the afternoon that I remembered. It just popped into my head…I watched a horror movie last night. This is nothing out of the ordinary, and my mind was still on the In Search of Darkness documentary about 80s horror from which I had a new list of must-watch films. But I had totally forgotten out the movie I had watched some 16 hours earlier. It wasn’t so much bad as it was just…boring.
The film in question is Red Letter Day, directed by Canadian Cameron Macgowan, and it was not very impressive. Things started fine. We open in a tasteless looking new suburb with a frantic man running down the street trying to grab up all the red envelopes that have appeared in every letterbox. When attempting to grab one from a porch a surly man confronts him with a shotgun and murders him before cheerfully going about his day. This is not setting an accurate standard for the rest of the movie. This promises a high pace, shocking violence and a mystery to unravel. What remains of the story does not deliver on any of these points.
We reopen on a family consisting of divorced mother Melanie (played by the delightfully named Dawn Van de Schoot), her gothy daughter Madison (Hailey Foss) and smart-alec son Timothy (Kaeleb Zain Gartner). They have recently moved into a high-class neighbourhood and, well, I think we’re supposed to relate to them because they see the suburb for what it really is and call out the bullshit but they actually come across as entitled dickweeds looking down their noses at their neighbours as though they fart roses. None of them are particularly likeable right off the bat, nor at any point during their story. What we’re going to learn real quickly, however, is that such subtle character work would have been beyond the capabilities of these film-makers.
This is the key problem with this movie and I feel that it’s very important that you understand how poorly handled the the ‘issues’ this film attempts to address are. There’s a few modern social issues the film wants to comment on. These include living in sheltered suburban lives, saying things on the internet and 4chan rising up again it all. What the movie wants to say about all these things are…they’re bad? And you’d better watch out! Things could go bad at any moment! Oooooh!
Do you remember the early The Purge movies that try to dress themselves up as a warning of things to come? That the USA is the verge of total collapse if we don’t change our ways? Red Letter Day has a similar feel to it, except written by a 12 year old. It’s less a critique and more a sneer from an entitled Redditor. Confusingly enough, this movie generated a bit of buzz on the festival circuit. One critic called it a mash-up of Shivers and Battle Royale, which makes me wonder what movie they had been watching and where I can find a copy.
Our three family members talk a whole bunch about moving into the suburb and how much better they are, then they each receive a letter in a red envelope that instructs them to kill a person. This person has been matched up with them based on their target’s online opinions contradicting their own. Then the family talk about it for a while. A long while. The mother decides to abandon her children on a day when she knows for a fact that two people have been instructed to murder them to have a chat with her friends, who she’s been matched with.
After they talk about it for a while we get some excitement. Friend’s husband finds a kitchen knife in the mother’s purse, prompting a confrontation that results in husband being stabbed in the neck with a knife impaled through a roast turkey because…irony? He doesn’t die, and randomly pops up later in the film for some very unintentional comedy. Meanwhile, the boy is attacked by the weirdo neighbour he was paired with and defends himself by standing between a window and a door the maniac is on the other side off.
Then there’s some crafty shots fired at hackers, social media and Christians…because why not…and the family escape the suburbs because they live in a society. But the society will never stop.
Oh, I forgot to mention…the gothy teen has a boyfriend who likes horror movies and stuff. Just to hammer the point home, he’s named ‘Luther Addams’, and his nickname is ‘Lucifer’. He turns out to be an edgy hacker. The mother proves she’s above him because she doesn’t kill him because the director saw The Dark Knight. She does smash his face open though, because we gotta stick it to that millennial who seems to have been kept in stasis since the 80s.
Eventually they drive away from the suburbs. The evil suburbs, where people are oppressed and on the verge of murdering each other, only being held back by society. In a final sting a mail delivery truck is seen approaching a different suburb because…inevitability? It’s an unsatisfying ending because, aside from the prologue and news footage nobody actually dies and nothing was gained. This is where the Battle Royale comparisons confound me. Battle Royale is a bloodbath. It’s characterised by a large cast who massacres each other. No one named character dies in Red Letter Day.
Red Letter Day doesn’t work as a premise. It’s not believable that an online hate group with vague motivations (society?) would use such an unreliable and outmoded method of communication to launch their revolution. They’re affecting change not through technology but mail – nonsense. Then there’s the complete lack of wider social response. Apart from some montages of people reacting to the letters (including some very, very unconvincingly shot news stories). This may feed into the enclosed ecosystem of the suburb, but then there’s no reason to provide any outside glimpse via the internet. Character decisions are non-sensical, the writing and acting in unconvincing…there’s nothing that lets me suspend disbelief and absorb the satire.
The movie also fails as a social satire because it doesn’t have anything to say. Instead it points the finger at things that are ‘bad’. Living in the suburbs is bad. Using social media is bad. Also not fitting in is bad. 4chan is bad. Why? They’re bad and that’s ironic. This is a very shallow movie trying to soak up heavy-handed symbolism. The Purge had similar problems but at least they leaned heavily into style and black comedy.
You’ll be looking for many new viewing experiences while in isolation during this time of pandemic. Don’t make this one of them.