Sunday, May 6, 2012
DAYLIGHT: Terror Under Clear Blue Skies
Directed by David Barker
Written by David Barker, Michael Godere, Ivan Martin, and Alexandria Meirehans
Daylight is an incredibly tense psychological thriller that's been on my list for a while. It falls into a sub-genre of horror that's inspired by Michael Haneke's Funny Games, and populated with film like Kidnapped, Eden Lake, and The Strangers. Each of these films removes all manner of the supernatural from the story, and focuses on a realistic horrifying crime. Some of these films explore the terror of home invasions, while others focus on terrible crimes like a kidnapping or teen violence. Each is traumatic in its own way because they are so plausible. These types of films are often frightening because most people can put themselves in the shoes of the victims.
In my opinion, Daylight is among the most effective and affecting, particularly due to the strong performances and a great deal of restraint. Director David Barker - along with his core cast who all have writing credit - crafted a tight and harrowing story around some very intriguing characters. Subtlety is the key in this film, both visually, and in the dialogue and nuance of the acting. A lot of filmgoers will be put off because Barker handles his kidnapping tale with a lot of ambiguity. We never really know much about the plan of the kidnappers. There are a few plot point that aren't wrapped up, which actually adds an element of realism. The denouement is left wide open, and a lot of people will feel the sting of having no closure. For me, personally, these elements enhance the realism.
The story itself is minimal, hinging the plot more on the emotional aspects. In stark contrast to films like Hostel or Turistas where US citizens are victimized in foreign countries, Daylight places its foreign protagonists on picturesque American soil. A couple - Swedish Irene, and Daniel from Switzerland - are on their way to a wedding in the woods. The pregnant Irene tries to keep the drive pleasant, but Daniel is troubled with economic stress. Irene in locked in an internal struggle with her feelings for Daniel, as well as wrestling with questions of religious faith. At the behest of Irene, and against Daniel's better judgement, they pick up a chatty hitchhiker named Renny (Michael Godere). Within moments, it's clear they're in for some trouble when he orders them to pick up a second hitchhiker named Leo (Ivan Martin). The couple finds themselves taken hostage and holed up with three criminals in an isolated country home.
What's remarkable about Daylight is the delicacy with which the film is handled by the cast and crew. People expecting over-the-top violence will be sorely disappointed. Daylight is interested more in exploring the inner workings of its characters. The trio of kidnappers aren't caricatures of brooding, dangerous killers. Rather, they come across as a pack of regular guys who are very unsure of themselves despite their penchant for menace. Distrusting one another, they are just as much a danger to themselves as they are to Daniel and Irene.
When one of the kidnappers takes Daniel away to embezzle money from Irene's father, Renny and Leo are left to watch over Irene. Meirehans becomes the the focal point of the film. It's clear that she serves a higher purpose for the two men than simply an easy way to fast cash. Leo is looking to Irene as a replacement for lost love in his life. Renny, perhaps the most ruthless of the trio, looks to Irene for spiritual guidance, a void in his life. As the story progresses, the roles shift around and our expectations are thwarted.
Daylight is a moving, beautiful, even lyrical film, and one that's probably going to annoy most horror fans looking for excess violence, sensationalism, and a clear cut climax. With a trim running time of 74 minutes, Barker and Co. may have been able to wrap some things up a little more clearly, but it may have been at the expense of the film's integrity.