AVAILABLE ON DVD: 1st October
RUNNING TIME: 82 mins
REVIEWED BY; Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Daniel Shergold is a writer who has just finished a book on the occult that’s been launched to rave reviews. His celebratory evening with his wife is interrupted by a terrifying home invasion. A group of masked intruders burst in, murder Daniel’s wife and leave him in a wheelchair. The police can’t find the attackers, and Daniel’s reduced to a miserable half-life of snarling at his care worker, drinking himself insensible and staring at shadows. Then a friend offers to send someone over who can facilitate Daniel getting revenge. Daniel reluctantly agrees and receives a visit from the mysterious Infurnari, but there is a price to be paid……
“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”.
This very true saying from Confucius may have been the starting point for this extremely low-budget combination of vampirism, revenge and the Faust concept of a deal with the Devil. I say extremely low-budget, because The Harsh Light Of Day reportedly only cost around £100,000, with a first-time director and a cast of unknowns. Considering these factors, this it is quite an achievement. Downbeat and rather compeling, it received a limited cinema release early this year and is certainly a welcome addition to Monster Pictures’ [The Human Centipede, Yakuza Weapon] variable list of titles, released as an ‘arm’ of Eureka Entertainment. Don’t be put off by the title; this ain’t no Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode! It tries to wrest the concept of vampirism away from the horrid world that rubbish like The Twilight Saga has placed it in and at times even seems to be setting up a new mythology.
Right from the beginning, director Oliver s. Milburn shows real assurance in his directing, revealing considerable style without throwing it at you and shouting “look, this is me”. The opening scenes repeatedly cut from Daniel and Maria driving home, to the gathering where Daniel’s book is lauded, to the three criminals looking for a house to break into, and the change in lighting and even filming styles between the three worlds creates both tension and a palpable sense of dislocation. Jeremy Howard’s darkly pretty piano musical patterns help immensely in conveying this feeling. The attack on the couple has real fear, especially because three youths wear very freaky masks, though you don’t actually see much of the brutality. This is something I should emphasise; lot of nasty stuff does happen in this film, with vampire attacks a-plenty and gallons of the red stuff, but the gore is mainly very quick and sometimes even happens off the screen or we just see the aftermath. A result of the budget no doubt, and, to be honest, after a while I didn’t really miss it. What we do see is fairly convincing and hints at stuff which our minds can fill in for ourselves.
The Harsh Light Of Day certainly takes its time; we get a real sense of Daniel’s miserable existence after the attack, and the conversations between Daniel and Infurnari [read the Devil, and wasn’t there a film called The Devil And Daniel Webster?] are quite lengthy. The acting isn’t quite good enough to support this, with Giles Alderson [as Infurnari] stumbling a little on some of the passages, but he still has the charisma a role like this requires. Much time is spent on Daniel’s transformation, and this is something Dan Richardson sells quite well, especially considering that he isn’t backed up by much in the way of special effects. Eventually it came to me that almost two thirds of the film had gone by and I hadn’t seen any ‘revenge’ yet; in fact, little had happened at all the last third, but I was so engrossed by what I was watching I just hadn’t noticed. A sure sign that it was working, I think….
Yes, this is a very stripped-down affair, with no subplots to deviate from its main thread, but once the ‘revenge’ does kick into gear it doesn’t give the viewer the satisfaction he or she may expect, and this is clearly intended. Milburn actually humanises the attackers somewhat and gives us another character who is the real ‘monster’ behind it all. The scenes with the thugs suffer a bit from stilted acting and their portrayal doesn’t quite seem ‘real’, but some effort has been spent on trying to make the environment [the film was actually filmed in Dorset] a convincing one, while all the characters have been written as reasonably rounded human beings rather than ciphers. Sadly a few things don’t work so well towards the end with a last minute rescue which seems unneccassary and more to the point poorly done, and it’s a shame that the ending is something most people will have seen before, though it looks quite impressive for the money that was available and is also actually rather moving. The end of the film really does have a sense of great tragedy about it, something that may seem surprising but I found rather pleasing, despite the familiarity of what I was seeing.
The film can’t get away from looking cheap but the cinematography by Samuel Stewert and James Wainman is often very good, cleverly coming up with different colour schemes for different settings. The minimal effects certainly do their job. Much use is made of speeding people up, and it doesn’t always work, but one nightmare scene where Daniel’s masked attackers are coming at him from behind employs the technique in a really uncanny way. The writing often has some wit about it in the dialogue, though in the end you may feel a bit unsatisfied because so much background is not explained. This of course can be a good thing, but I just wanted to know more. The film teasingly hints at a strange new world and concepts which are on the verge of putting a fresh new spin on the vampire story. I wonder if Milburn is hedging his bets and is either thinking about making a sequel or a bigger-budgeted remake? The Harsh Light Of Day is certainly a good movie, but it has the potential to be a very good one. It doesn’t quite reach that high level, but I have a feeling that Milburn will get there with his second or third film.
I sometimes skim other reviews just before I review a film, not for ideas but to try to gauge what the prevailing critical opinion is on a film and to know if I am going against the tide or not. Often I see myself going against the tide, and this picture seems to be no exception. Reviews seem to err on the negative side, with the film being called things like “amateurish” and “ crude”. My answer to that this; what the hell were they expecting for such a small-budgeted project? Yes, it’s rough around the edges, yes, not everything works, etc,…..but Milburn has gone out there and done it, and his enthusiasm and love of filmmaking and the genres in which he is dabbling clearly shows in his film. This guy is going places, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The R2 DVD from Monster Pictures includes
·Short Film ‘Speechless’
·Interviews with Director
·Tips on Independent Film-Making