Red Letter Day (2019)

Rating: D+

Dir: Cameron Macgowan
Star:  Dawn Van de Schoot, Kaeleb Zain Gartner, Hailey Foss, Roger LeBlanc

Damn Canadians. There’s always so… polite. Which is fine when it comes to everyday life, but is rather less useful when it comes to making satirical horror films like this. It follows the Edwards family of Mom Melanie (Van de Schoot), son Timothy (Kaeleb) and elder daughter Madison (Foss) – dad is away on a business trip. They have just moved into the pleasant but very dull – even by the high standards of Canadian dullness!  – housing development of Aspen Ridge. However, their life is upended when they each receive a letter, containing a photo of another local resident, and instructions to kill them. Oh, and their target has received a similar letter, with their photo and the same murderous command. Initially, they write if off a sick joke, but news reports indicate some people are taking it very seriously. As things escalate, it’s clear they will have to kill or be killed.

You can tell this is Canadian rather than American, because the entire film contains precisely one firearm. People are instead defending themselves with things like meat tenderizers, when if this had taken place in Chicago rather than Calgary, it would quickly have resembled the D-Day landings. This extends to the film’s overall attitude as well, which is just too… nice. The premise should play like a more up close and personal version of The Purge, and initially, it seems like it might embrace its darkness, with the letters proclaiming combatants have been paired up due to their opposing world views. Which would have plenty of scope for conflict – except, that doesn’t apparently happen. Melanie is instead matched with her best pal, and Madison with her boyfriend. It’s stated the letters are the work of the Unknown, an online group of activists, yet their motives remain obscure. There really needed to be some viable explanation for what they are trying to achieve, and why this kind of localized mayhem was considered the best way to get there.

It does have some elements that make sense, and you can see where writer/director Macgown was trying to go with them. Having Melanie be the protective mother, prepared to do anything to protect her kids, is an area which could have expanded. One moment, involving a roast chicken, does hint at turning her into a homicidal home-maker, but it veers away from this. Instead, we get her having to go up against the tired old tropes of Madison’s boyfriend (Leblanc). He likes horror movies and heavy metal, lives in his parents’ basement, and is a complete psycho. The eighties called, they want their lazy stereotypes back. At 73 minutes long, you’d think it would want to put its skates on and get cracking towards the carnage. Instead, the characters send too much sitting around chatting, and even playing video games, unnecessary to the plot. It’s all the more disappointing, considering the potential present in the concept, which certainly deserves better.