Color, 2019, 76 mins. 8 secs.
Directed by Cameron Macgowan
Starring Dawn Van de Schoot, Hailey Foss, Kaeleb Zain Gartner
Epic Pictures (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
A bloody and sardonic variation on the poison pen thriller format first made famous by the legendary French film Le Corbeau, the Canadian thriller Red Letter Day gives the idea a modern suburban spin with a few dashes of concepts inspired by The Purge, Saw, and Mom and Dad, to name but a few inspirations. Though hampered by an obvious low budget and ultra-bright digital lensing, it's an amusing popcorn muncher if you're in the right frame of mind and want to see lots of practical gore effects splattering all over the place. It also runs a very zippy 76 minutes and never wears out its welcome.
In a pre-credits sequence we see a young man snatching up a batch of red envelopes pleading for his life with one of his neighbors in the middle of the afternoon before dying via a very gushy throat wound, which sets the stage for a dark chain of events unfolding in a seemingly quiet community. New arrival Melanie (Van de Schoot) is getting over her recent divorce by relocating with her two adolescent kids, Melanie (Foss) and smart-mouthed Tim (Gartner), but their idyllic new life is disrupted when they each receive a "Welcome to Red Letter Day" missive instructing them to kill another resident "within five kilometers" before they end up getting picked off themselves. When the police prove unhelpful, it becomes clear that this is far more than a prank and anyone could be at risk.
The fact that most of this film unfolds in broad daylight is a nice change from the norm, not to mention the use of digital media as a prime force behind the terror campaign that starts off with social media campaigning before ascending into a gruesome livestreaming event. When they really kick in, the gore gags pack a punch thanks to some entertaining practical effects, including novel use of a chicken and a very queasy effect at the end that would have made Savini proud. The limited number of locations and characters works in its favor as well, creating an insular environment that makes the highly unlikely concept easier to swallow as a hotbed of distrust and social tensions reaching the boiling point. The fact that this is open about its Canadian setting means this doesn't have quite the nasty, vitriolic tone found in many of its U.S. counterparts, which also makes the grisly moments a little more startling when they actually hit. Extra points for ending on a cool little ominous twist instead of the expected nihilism that's become the norm these days.
The Blu-ray release from Epic Pictures features a very colorful, sharp visual presentation befitting a recent production; it's very clean and pristine, Audio options include English 5.1 and 2.0 options (not a huge amount of difference between the solid quality of the two, though the 5.1 really jolts to life during a burst of choral-style music for a montage sequence), with optional English or Spanish subtitles provided. A very upbeat and often funny audio commentary with writer-director Cameron Macgowran, executive producer R. Trevor Griffiths, and cinematographer/executive producer Rhett Miller is chummy and filled with anecdotes, including an early bit that will definitely please Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning fans as well as ties to other genre films and the identities of many of the bit players. The biggest extra here is "Suburban Skirmish" (45m6s) with participants including Macgowran, Van de Schoot, Miller, Gartner, and Foss talking about the evolution of the project including some earlier short projects, the audition process, and the resonance of the themes and the characters as well as appreciation for the welcome sense of humor. "Her Eyes" (27m47s) catches up with actress Tiffany Helm, who has a small but key memorable role here and chats about her career from modeling through some beloved genre films (including that particular one mentioned above, which slasher fans will appreciate). Finally you get a trailer, a teaser, and bonus trailers for Artik, Harpoon, Candy Corn, Hoax, Automation, and The Fare.
Reviewed on December 15, 2019.