Friday, September 23, 2011


DAYLIGHT                             C-                   
USA  (73 mi)  2009  d:  David Barker              Official site

This film had been sitting on the shelf for about a year before finally pulled out of the cobwebs by a New York production company known as Cinema Purgatorio run by Ray Privett, former Distribution Coordinator at Facets Video in Chicago before forming his own production company.  This company is also responsible for the previously released film Zenith, which is easily one of the worst films seen this year.  DAYLIGHT may be a little better, but not much, as this is an overly dreary and disturbing affair that feels hastily put together, filled with unlikable characters that hold little interest to the viewer.  When the best thing in the movie is a 2009 Maserati Quattroporte, a premium luxury vehicle that sells for a cool $125,000, the film’s got problems.  Perhaps the car is what got this couple into trouble in the first place, but no, even in the opening scenes, they are having problems communicating, where despite a baby due within weeks, they seem to have little chemistry together.  Set in the tiny roads of upstate New York, a European couple living in New York City, Danny (Aidan Redmond) and Irene (Alexandra Meierhans) embark on a ride into the countryside for a friend’s wedding, but get lost, seeking directions from a hitchhiker, eventually inviting him into their car where he quickly wields a knife and overpowers them, joining two other accomplices in a kidnapping plot that takes them to a remote country home.  Throughout this film, the threat of violence is more pronounced than the kidnapper’s actual behavior, which strangely fluctuates from merciless, out of control psychopaths to an eerie politeness that may have your skin crawl.

Rather than focus on the kidnapping itself, which is like Little Red Riding Hood getting lost in the woods, this director’s interest lies in a minimalist exposé of the individuals involved, where the kidnappers are a mysterious bunch that don’t seem to generate much trust among themselves as well, while both the husband and wife endure an utterly horrific ordeal in the hands of sadistic killers.  Changing the game plan in midstream, however, Danny is led out of the picture, supposedly raising huge sums of cash, while the pregnant wife is left alone in the house with two maniacs, Renny (Miachel Godere), a knife wielding, cold blooded murderer and Leo (Ivan Martin), whose initial impatience is continually put to the test waiting for the others to return.  Punctuated by shots of moving clouds, time slows down to a crawl as they at first receive regular calls from their partner, but the calls stop overnight and time eats away at these two who question their safety just sitting there doing nothing, allowing paranoia to creep in, creating a tense situation for Irene who is toyed with by the killers, each apparently jealous of the time the other spends with her.  Veering back and forth from heartless to heartfelt, these killers seem baffled by the pregnancy angle, as they also seem to have their own intimacy issues with one another.  But Irene adopts a survival strategy, where she openly expresses her fears, worrying about what’s going to happen to her husband and her baby, but also seems to touch them both with a genuine maternal kindness that takes them both by surprise. 

While this could be an in depth character study, it isn’t.  While this might resemble the psychological twist in Polanski’s DEATH AND THE MAIDEN (1994), an intense stage drama between two longtime adversaries who share a dark history, it doesn’t.  It never really builds upon this theme of something real and provocative developing between characters, instead it veers off the map into a dreamlike fairy tale, which might have worked temporarily, but certainly not given this amount of final impact.  What’s the point of creating an unflinchingly realistic kidnapping drama if you’re going to then cop out with a complete change of tone for the final epilogue, as if truth never mattered in the first place?  It’s as if the filmmaker lost faith in his own characters, intervening, toning them down, radically reinventing them with a condensed “R” rated version for the inexplicable finale that is just a tacked on ending.  It is this blatant dishonesty that derails the rest of the picture, as it’s no longer a punishing psychological thriller, just another instantly forgettable story.  The three actors in question, Renny and Leo and Irene, actually develop something strange and mysterious onscreen, wildly uneven, perhaps even original, if not horribly distasteful, but it all evaporates when the director undermines their work, apparently unable to appreciate that a trite, formulaic ending doesn’t fit with the tenuously fragile and explosive connection they’ve actually established, where the problem is not with what happens, but with what happens afterwards.  What’s easily the best part of the picture is wiped out in a few short minutes, which is probably why this film was sitting on the shelf for so long. 

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