Movie Review: The Harsh Light of Day / Cert: 18 / Director: Oliver S Milburn / Screenplay: Oliver S Milburn / Starring: Dan Richardson, Giles Anderson, Niki Felstead, Sophie Linfield / Release Date: June 8th
It’s fair to say that the last thing most of us really need right now is another low budget seen-this-before vampire shocker; the jury’s still out on whether vampires or zombies are currently the most overused monsters in horror cinema. But the romantic idea of the vampire - the restless undead spirit drifting through the centuries feeding from the living - seems endlessly irresistible so it’s hardly surprising that writers are still drawn back to the well and find themselves compelled to tell new blood-sucking stories. Post-Twilight, vampire movies remain a dime a dozen and pretty much interchangeable but occasionally something comes along which, if not exactly different, has enough originality in its vision to raise it above the pack and mark it down for wider investigation.
The Harsh Light of Day is the first feature (albeit running at about seventy-five minutes) by young British director Oliver S Milburn. Occult writer Daniel Shergold (Richardson) and his wife Maria (Felstead) are celebrating the publication of Daniel’s definitive book on the supernatural when their country home is invaded in the night by a gang of masked youths. Maria is bludgeoned to death and Daniel is left paralysed when he‘s thrown down a flight of stairs. Police attempts to track down the home invaders lead nowhere and Daniel falls into a spiral of depression and despair, trapped in his own home with its terrible memories, looking for solace at the bottom of a glass. A phone call from the supernatural expert who helped Daniel put together his book offers him the chance of revenge when he’s introduced to the mysterious, brooding and wonderfully-named Infurnari (Anderson). But revenge comes at a great price and ultimately Daniel has to decide if that price - his own humanity - is one he’s really willing to pay.
The Harsh Light of Day is a micro-budget British movie and, to be honest, it looks it. Its digital filming means it resembles some badly-transferred mid-Atlantic TV movie but in some ways this adds to its urgency, its immediacy and certainly its intimacy. Whilst its story of vampiric redemption is one we’re all too familiar with, Milburn’s script is tight and thoughtful, powered by an intense central performance from Dan Richardson as the tormented, tragic Daniel entering into a Faustian pact with Infurnari. Milburn has managed to turn his tiny budget to his advantage; violence and horror is often implied or shown in swift cuts and fleeting moments of brutality; the sequence where the invaders return to Daniel’s home to finish what they started, shown in a ‘found footage’ style, is inspired and off-putting because it’s not expected and suddenly jarringly-realistic. Admittedly the attackers themselves, filming their acts of violence for the visual gratification of others, appear to be have been recruited from Central Chav Casting via EastEnders but the film’s more concerned with Daniel’s choice and its consequences than attempting to humanise the baddies who, in the end, are just vampire fodder.
Your enjoyment of Harsh Light of Day will depend entirely on how tolerant you are of cheap, earnest, raw film-making. Milburn has, frankly, worked wonders here with almost no money but with a well-written script which has a real story to tell. Oliver Milburn is an enthusiastic and clearly-talented young director who, with a bit more money behind him, could be capable of some very powerful cinema in years to come. Harsh Light of Day is a very strong and promising start.