Red Letter Day sets its stage like a Hallmark Original horror movie. We meet the Edwards family, a three-piece unit with dorky brother Timothy (Kaeleb Zain Gartner), goth sister Madison (Hailey Foss), and divorced mom Melanie (Dawn Van de Schoot). They get along in that sitcom way where, sure, they have their problems, but they’re a family, gosh darnit, and they love each other. The dialogue makes everyone sound a bit too smart. They all get along a bit too well. It has an idyllic, kitschy quality dipped in affirmation.
It’s staged, unnatural, and holy hell does it leave you unbalanced for when the violence starts.
Red Letter Day
Director: Cameron Macgowan
Released: November 5, 2019
Something like The Purge or The Invitation, the Edwards find themselves and their suburban community caught in a global event known as Red Letter Day. Each person has received a little red letter in their mail box. That letter contains the name and face of a person whom an anonymous internet group (referred to as The Unknown) has curated as the person’s closest mortal enemy using online browsing data. The letter calls on readers to kill this person before that person kills them. It’s an obvious prank that no sensible person would buy into.
Too bad the world is not filled solely with sensible people.
So begins a gauntlet of bloody violence as a miscommunication leads Melanie to stab a rotisserie chicken through her best friend’s husband’s neck. She runs away only to find that her son’s red-letter enemy has decided he’s in the mood to kill and has dragged a sledge hammer to their house. Also, her daughter has run away. It’s going to be a day.
The gore here is pretty high quality. Snapped leg bones and shredded faces boast a tactile griminess. The performances buoy all this on painful, sweating gasps and shouts. For opening on such stilted friendliness, the main cast reaches a palpable height of fear. Van de Schoot is something of a force here, running an emotional gamut of rage, anxiety, and grief. There’s a moment where she catches her bloody face in the mirror and snaps for just a second, and it feels like a sample-spoon tasting of Nicolas Cage’s Mandy bathroom freakout.
The concept, though fertile, is explored largely through broad strokes “The internet, am I right?” conversations that don’t dig as deep as I’d like and feel a bit outdated as internet stuff usually does when captured by a slower medium. The film is a much better first offering than the original Purge, however, and at 75 minutes it far from overstays its welcome.
Red Letter Day is a bit of satirical pulp that doesn’t change the game and relies on more than a few tropes (like the bad dude waiting entirely too long to make their kill), but it’s bloody and breezy with some solid nods and winks. It’s not a dreamy mediation on internet fame like Like Me, but it’s more than worth a watch for what it is.