In the digital age, in which anyone can now be a filmmaker, low-budget horror films are more than a dime a dozen, being easy to produce and rarely relying on strong performances. As such, it usually requires the confident execution of a strong, original concept to elevate the better of these flicks above the typical trappings of the genre. The Harsh Light of Day, the debut feature from young director Oliver S. Mlburn, falls prey not only to its garishly low-fi production values, but also a general dearth of ideas in the already overcrowded vampire film market.
Middle-class couple Daniel (Dan Richardson) and Maria (Niki Felstead) return home from the launch of Daniel’s latest book on the occult to find themselves besieged by a trio of mask-wielding maniacs who are making snuff films for money. The altercation ends with Maria being viciously beaten to death while Daniel is left paralysed. Some time later, Daniel is confronted by a shady, imposing young man (Giles Alderson), who promises that he can track down the attackers and grant him revenge. But this will come at the grandest price of all; he will have to become a monster, and lose his life to his obsession.
There is no point in critiquing the advent of digital filmmaking because it has afforded talented filmmakers everywhere a cheap vestibule with which to demonstrate their talent. In this instance, however, murky cinematography contributes to an ugly, unpalatable aesthetic that’s compounded by unfussed, amateur direction, too often giving this the feel of a student film not even becoming of straight-to-video banishment.
The concept is at bare bones a Faustian bargain of sorts, but director Milburn lacks the capabilities to incorporate the supernatural elements into his story under the umbrella of his strict budget. There is no subtlety to it; an early moment when the devilish dealmaker flashes his red eyes at Daniel, it is painfully, laughably obvious that they are either cheap contact lenses, or a woeful composite mocked up in Microsoft Paint.
It is a low budget take on vampirism in the same – ahem – vein, as last year’s excellent indie horror Midnight Son. In the wake of the transformation, Daniel even dines on raw meat in much the same way as the protagonist does in the aforementioned film, although this is executed without a drop of that film’s economy and finesse. It is hard not to at least appreciate the effort made here, even if it is almost completely unconvincing.
A lack of invention and imagination is what stymies the film more so than its rickety composition; beats can be predicted far in advance, especially when Daniel is given countless morbid warnings from his new friend, which aren’t heeded, and of course, cause all Hell to soon enough break loose. It gets slightly more bracing at the tail end, as a brutal murder-revenge bloodbath ensues, though briefly also goes the implausible found footage route, which is, all things considered, quite silly.
The post-slaughter mythological exposition is somewhat intriguing, as we finally get some explanation for the Faustian deal, but it still lacks originality, and you’ll see the end coming a country mile off. This micro-budget horror falls prey to its own low-fi construction, but more importantly, a real poverty of original ideas.
The Harsh Light of Day is on limited release in UK cinemas tomorrow.