Red Letter Day

{Movie Review}Red Letter Day-Suburbia Gets A Farcical Purging

A divorced mother and her two teenage children move into a blandly posh house in a suburban community. This idyllic community of upper middle-income families all receive red envelopes with instructions to kill a specific neighbor or be killed by them. The envelopes and the ensuing violence are courtesy of an online group known only as unknown. Think Mr. Robot’s fsociety meets Untraceable with a heaping helping of The Purge on the side. The group is not nearly as intelligent as fsociety(or smart really at all), as evil as Untraceable, or as politically informed as The Purge. It’s a parody that occasionally takes itself too seriously but, by and large, is enjoyable, fluffy fun.

At its core, Red Letter Day seeks to create paranoia through the everyday irritations of societal life. The neighbor who constantly is on your case about your trash bins or lawn edging, the friend’s husband who is a controlling, judgmental turd, or the disaffected youth living in Mommy and Daddy’s basement while bemoaning the evils of community and capitalism are all represented. Surprisingly well, I might add. The ridiculous archetypes serve to further the comedic tone of the film rather than detract from the clearly lite intention.

The gore is well-spaced and effective for its intent. This is not a serious gorefest purposely making you gag or a psychological thriller designed to make you think, but a laughingly bloody horror/comedy that would be great for the 11-14 year old crowd. There is plenty of pumping, spurting blood, satisfying injuries, and wince-worthy bone breaks. They are well spaced to keep the action going and done in a deliberately imitative style. One particularly fun bit of depravity featured a roasted chicken, in mid carve, to the clavicle. Delicious, home-cooked hilarity.

How well do you know your neighbors and your friends? If it is killed or be killed, how far would you go? The world of Blumhouse’s Purge Franchise has already laid the groundwork for this superficial bloody farce. The film is shot with hyperrealism in mind, similar to the fantastic Adult Swim faux commercials. An absolute kookiness permeates the film, complete with manic soundtracks that play melodramatic tunes one moment and something sugary and light the next. That focused absurdity keeps the film grounded in laughter and heavy of entertainment.

The cast is tasked with running right up to the line but not crossing into complete absurdity with their over the top performances. Mom Melanie(Dawn Van de Schoot) is a permissive but devoted parent who becomes the strength her children need in several fantastically comedic bursts of flying fists and heaving meat tenderizers. Son, Tim (Kaeleb Zain Gartner) is the sweet younger brother we all want. Zain is giving off serious Adventures in Babysitting vibes and daughter Maddy(Hailey Foss) is all angtsy eyeliner with her older boyfriend and damn the man attitude until she trusts the wrong person. This family has a realistic dynamic and are all likable. The neighbor and friend’s husband Lewis (Michael Tan) is the real scene-stealer, though. The most obnoxious parts of the conservative trope are portrayed with just the right amount of relatability as he tries to protect his wife from someone he doesn’t need too.

Tonally the film has some issues with the majority of the film feeling entirely like the fun joke it is. There is a strange montage near the end that is oddly somber. As if the director, Cameron Macgowan forgot for a minute he wasn’t making a commentary piece of the ills of society or the sanctity of the family bond. Beyond that, the film works well as a superficial horror piece devised to amuse. Iconic ’90s era Easter Eggs are dropped everywhere with nods to Nine Inch Nails(Skinny Puppy or Dead Milkmen were where the hardcore fans were, though), and beloved Nathan Fillion led Firefly. Those were the days…

This is a film that knows exactly where it belongs and stays in that lane. It works well because it leans hard into the madcap, screwball nature of the story. It’s a satire with buckets of thick, red blood and a nugget of truth at its spit-take heart. For God’s sake, Maddy’s boyfriend’s favorite movie is Weekend At Bernie’s 2. That should tell you everything you need to know about him and this chucklesome movie. Don’t overthink it, just enjoy it! Red Letter Day is out everywhere on November 5th, 2019.

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