Canadian writer and director Cameron Macgowan’s raw social comment chiller Red Letter Day was most definitely one of the stand out movies of FrightFest 2019.
His first full length feature the brutal and brilliant concept blows the audience away in the opening offering up a moral conundrum that will keep you questioning your own ethics for a long while after the movie is done.
Set in the sleepy suburban setting of Aspen Ridge the main players are recently divorced mum Melanie Edwards (Dawn Van de Schoot) and her teenage kids Madison and Timothy (Hailey Foss and Kaeleb Zain Gartner).
Living a quiet mundane life their world is turned upside down by the arrival of three red letters addressed to each of them. Inside is a picture of a person that they must kill before, they are told, that person kills them. Thinking it’s just a joke matriarch Melanie heads to the house of her target and best friend to clear the air unaware that everything is about to be blown apart as bloody chaos grips the general populace.
It transpires that people have been matched by an anarchic organisation via a deep dive into their social media accounts placing people with opposing views together to ignite instant anger and insanity. As in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 historical novel The Scarlett Letter people’s hidden sins are exposed and displayed for the public to see. Racists are faced with the people they hate, bigots beset by the individuals they oppose and each individuals dark side comes to light with their extreme online opinionated persona taking over their everyday friendly façade.
The community quickly descends into carnage displayed brilliantly by inserted found footage including uploaded murder videos, distraught panicked online posts and security footage of attacks. Quickly the police are overwhelmed with calls cutting off any access to help the innocent central characters attempt forcing them to fend and fight for themselves.
Billed as a dark comedy horror the social satire is razor sharp and the lighter moments offset by visceral violence and graphic gore dragging you back to reality. Evoking The Purge and the unreasonably underrated Series 7: The Contenders the ensuing paranoia and panic is disturbingly realistic with most people reacting exactly how you or I would confronted with the same sick and surreal situation.
Snap decisions spin out of control and seemingly rational people are overcome by a survival instinct making them act on a primal level. This is most obvious of all in Melanie who is determined to keep her kids safe whatever the cost even if it means murdering her friends and neighbours.
Stark and simple Red Letter Day flies through its tight running time not letting up till the end in its assault on the audiences senses and sensibilities. A truly unsettling morality tale for the modern age it’s a movie that rings a bit too true and proves why horror is the perfect medium for exposing the fragility of our community and humanity both of which can fall with the arrival of one red letter.