DVD Review: The Harsh Light of Day (2011)
Review by Tristan Bishop
Vampires are a victim of their own success these days. The creatures of the night, once found holding entire Eastern European villages in terror under their cold grasp of fear, have recently found themselves cast in pretty boy lead roles in the equally loved-and-loathed genre of ‘supernatural romance’. This is undoubtedly good PR for bloodsuckers, but it means their cache with horror fans is somewhat less than it was in previous decades – after all, who in their right mind would take the insipid Edward from Twilight moping about over a girl 100 years his junior over Chris Lee as Dracula hypnotising virgins for lunch? Well, teenage girls, that’s who, but that isn’t really my point.
Which brings me to The Harsh Light Of Day – a low-budgeted British production which thankfully doesn’t fall in with Edward and his sparkling ilk. In fact it tries to do something original, mixing the traditional vampire story into a straightforward revenge film.
The plot as it stands concerns Daniel (Dan Richardson), a writer who has published a successful book on the occult, and his wife, who find themselves on the receiving end of a home invasion by three masked men which leaves the wife dead and Daniel a bitter alcoholic confined to a wheelchair. Police investigations have failed to identify the intruders (who all wore masks similar to the now iconic ones used in V For Vendetta), so Daniel finds himself at a dead end and unable to come to terms with the attack. Eventually an old contact (who we are lead to believe is an occult expert who helped on the aforementioned book) manages to get Daniel on the telephone, and offers to help him find some closure. When Daniel agrees, a strange young man called Infurnari (a very plummy performance by Giles Alderson, pictured above) appears at his front door and explains that he can help Daniel track down and deal with the killers, but it will require him to make some changes to Daniel himself…
Of course it’s no surprise whatsoever when Infurnari turns out to be one of the living dead, and Daniel is set to become a Nosferatu himself in order to deal out some bloodthirsty justice, whilst the killers themselves turn out to be a trio of destitute young men driven to making snuff videos for their sleazy boss in order to try and escape their dead-end lives.
So far so interesting – a hero who has to become inhuman to allow justice to be served, and somewhat sympathetic (or at least humanised) villains. As a revenge plot it’s got more going for it than, say, Michael Winner’s Death Wish (1974), which remains the archetype of the genre. Unfortunately the film stumbles from the beginning, betrayed by its low budget and the almost universally amateurish acting on display; some of the line delivery is so flat that I wondered if it was done on purpose. In fact the entire film has the feel of a British TV episode, albeit one with less acting talent than, say, Inspector Morse or Casualty.
To be fair to first-time feature director Oliver Milburn, he does display some directorial talent here. The use of camera effects and angles makes up for the obvious low budget in places, and there are scenes which transcend the film they are attached to: the scene where Daniel realises what he is becoming and tests out the various genre conventions (looking at his reflection in the mirror, placing a cross against his head, eating garlic) starts by being rather amusing, and then twists into something a lot darker as he cuts his hand, and, realising he can heal immediately, places the knife over his heart and considers driving it in. Also, the confrontation between Daniel and the killers plays out partly via images from the camcorder, mirroring the filmed murders they have already committed (and adding a little dose of the found footage genre). Daniel’s eventual mastery of his improved senses, which enable him to track down his prey, is also handled pretty well – and told almost entirely visually. Unfortunately these moments are few and far between, and, although the film runs just over 80 minutes (usually a massive plus in my book), it still manages to outstay its welcome. A bit of extra gore here and there may possibly have helped keep the target audience’s attention (there is some on display, but mostly brief, probably due to budgetary constraints).
In all it’s a real shame that The Harsh Light Of Day (great title, though, right?) is scuppered by budget and lack of acting talent, as I think the script shows some promise (it was actually written by Milburn when he was just 23 years old), as will Milburn as a director if he keeps focussing on the visual storytelling and perhaps gets some professional actors involved.
The Harsh Light Of Day will be released to Region 2 DVD on 1st October 2012 from Monster Pictures.