Monday, October 08, 2012

The Harsh Light of Day – review

Director: Oliver S. Milburn

Release date: 2012

Contains spoilers

A UK vampire film, which is director Oliver S Milburn’s first feature length outing and… well it is a mixed bag to be fair. I liked the story, sort of, but found myself struggling with some of the technical and thespian aspects.

That’s not to say that I want to damn the film in the first paragraph. It had something to offer but I found myself losing sympathy with the movie as I watched it – at least a tad. It is, however, better than many other micro-budget efforts.

dark corners
The start of the film sees us flashing between scenes. Images of hoodies on estates juxtapose with a book launch for the book Dark Corners, an exploration of the supernatural by writer Daniel Shergold (Dan Richardson). Through this we see snippets of his speech, he thanks collaborator Sean McMahon (Lockhart Ogilvie) – a person not at the launch and subjected to Dan’s late night phone calls and internet chats through the writing of the book. He thanks Maria (Niki Felstead), his wife.

mask and hoodied assailant
We see them driving to their countryside home, and the hoodies driving looking for somewhere. They stop at one house but do not enter, there is no one in. This then is no group of lads looking to rob a house. After celebratory rumpy pumpy, Dan awakens. He thinks he can hear movement in the house. He gets down the stairs and a bat connects with his face, wielded by one of the hoodies. The three wear masks and a struggle occurs between one of them and Dan as they race to the bedroom, which sees Dan thrown down the stairs with a sickening crunch. Unable to use his legs he drags himself upstairs, serenaded by Maria’s screams, where he sees one of the hoodies above Maria who kills her with a crowbar. One of them has filmed everything. It is a powerful opening with overtones of a Clockwork Orange type world.

Infurnari turns Dan
Dan awakens, he is on a couch, a wheelchair is by him. He has lost the use of his legs, the police never caught the hoodies though the press is still interested in the case. He is being cared for by a woman named Fiona (Sophie Linfield) but he is a wreck. He has nightmares that make him pee himself, he drinks too much and ignores phonecalls. McMahon is trying to call him and, eventually, he does take a call. McMahon tells him that he is sending a man called Infurnari (Giles Alderson, Night Junkies) to see him with an offer of help, he should just hear him out. Infurnari arrives (at the end of the movie we get the impression that he and McMahon are one and the same despite McMahon’s voice work being done by a different actor). He tells Dan he can help him get revenge but all things have a price. Infurnari is a vampire, of course, and the turning process was a marvellous parade of nightmarish images.

Dan's revenge begins
We cut briefly to the hoodies (sans masks and hoods). They are Tom (Paul Jaques), his brother Steve (Matthew Thom) and friend Randall (Wesley McCarthy). This scene was problematic for two reasons for me. The filming quality (which was not of a large budget quality to begin with) went weird for a while during it, throwing you out of the movie somewhat. Secondly because we discover that the guys attacked Maria and Dan at random to sell the video to someone (never seen) who collects and sells such videos. I think, honestly, it would have been more impactful had the attack been just an outpouring of ultraviolence à la Clockwork Orange. Be that as it may, we then follow Dan as he turns and discovers what he is and then gets his revenge.

first feed
The vampirism cannot be passed through bite (it isn’t a disease). Animal meat/blood can keep a vampire alive but they really need human blood. He gets the ability to walk back and nearly attacks Fiona, sending her away. Infurnari throws himself in front of her car and breaks her neck (she knows too much) and brings her back as Dan’s first meal – so the victim need not be alive. Dan has a reflection, garlic doesn’t burn his skin (he can’t eat it, but can’t eat any human food) and crosses/holy water have no effect. Sunlight, on the other hand, is deadly (at first, as he turns, it also seemed to take his regained ambulatory legs but later it definitely burns), hence the title. His memory is sharper and he can build complex visions from scent – hence he is able to tracks down the hoodies.

Dan Richardson as Dan
I’ve mentioned the film quality going splink but the bigger problem to me was in the script's dialogue and the delivery thereof. I liked the story, the ideas that were built and the visual representation of some of these (such as the turning scene). However the dialogue felt a little stagy and the delivery was weak. Whilst Dan Richardson wasn’t awful I felt that he wasn’t strong enough to carry the film and it was him that needed to do so. The narrative made us sympathetic to the character but the acting threatened to undermine that as it was, at best, a little flat and, at worst, the character came across as whiny – though the story gave him enough to whine about.

some gory moments
If it is not a spoiler too far I felt the coda carried an ending that is overused, depicting what I realised (as I watched it) is in danger of becoming, what could be termed as, a politically correct way to end a vampire tale. The vampire society that Infurnari hints at seemed fascinating but was not expanded upon. However perhaps the hints were enough and the ideas worked because we weren’t able to scrutinise them.

All in all this wasn’t the worst vampire film to have emerged in the last few years. It has some excellent moments within it but stumbles over its budget (which is what I am putting the odd poor quality moments within scenes down to) and I had problems with the lead performance, which was just too flat in my opinion. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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