Rating: 1.5/5There is a certain amount of cynicism behind your average mid- to high-budget Hollywood flick. Clichés are embraced and recycled plots abound, and nobody expects any differently. That’s why there can be a lot to love about low-budget B movies. They don’t wither under the constraint of what Hollywood perceives Middle Americans want to see, and they’re not films created by a corporate committee that has nothing but contempt for its audience. B movies, at their best, understand that their target audience wants entertainment that is in some ways challenging or unique; a B movie can never, ever condescend to its audience, not if it wants to connect with them.
That’s why the sheer volume of condescension packed into the low-budget horror flick The Day is so frustrating. The creators of this washed out, lifeless bore never once thought you wanted to see something original. They imagined you devoid of imagination, completely lacking in desire to experience something new, happy with an amalgam of derivative horror clichés packaged as a vague post-apocalyptic thing that they were too lazy to fully explain. No one should know how to create a successful low-budget horror flick better than Douglas Aarniokoski, who started in the industry as assistant and second unit director on films in the Dollman and Trancers series. Yet Aarniokoski betrays a surprising lack of understanding of the B movie genre, embracing stereotypes without any apparent realization that they are stereotypes. And what is there to say, really, about a horror film where the sure-to-die black guy trope was deployed with such fervor that the character was already half dead from the film’s opening moments? Not one line of dialogue, not a single characterization, not one stitch of clothing is original to the film; it is all pulled from somewhere else, a series of things designed to appeal to kids these days. Someone involved in this film obviously believes that if you put a bunch of cool stuff in one place it stacks the cool, makes it too awesome to be ignored, when in reality it just highlights the inherent emptiness of cultural commodities.
The Day begins as a group of five tired, moderately-armed twentysomethings make their way through the obligatory bleak landscape of a grim meathook future. They need to find shelter while avoiding an unexplained threat, and an abandoned farmhouse seems ideal as temporary refuge. Plus, it’s photogenically decrepit, featuring the flaking lead paint and rotting furniture that has made urban exploration ruin porn so popular. At the farmhouse, our intrepid group engages in the kind of hackneyed dialogue that defines The Day. Someone asks how much food is left, because it makes total sense that five people struggling to survive wouldn’t have been keeping track of the food right down to the very last grain of salt. The leader, who is not called Captain Exposition but really should be, gravely states, “Guys… we need more food.” Then thunder claps! Then pained expressions! Rain pours and meaningful conversations ensue. Life is cheap, we learn in these conversations, but we don’t know why. We spend much of the movie not knowing what our rag-tag survivors are fleeing from, but mere withholding of details does not automatically create suspense. By the time we find out what they’re running from, we really just don’t care.
The female characters, including a young girl, are all immediately competitive with one another. It’s partly sexist, but partly to show just how tough the lead ass-kicking female is. Regular women can only slap the shit out of other women, just like in a 1980s action show. Mary (Ashley Bell), however, gets to go one-on-one with male baddies, which proves she is super-special and also hardcore. Mary is strong, silent and probably described in pre-production as a combination of Rayanne from “My So-Called Life” and Xena, Warrior Princess, plus cannibalism. And everyone at the pitch meeting nodded sagely and uttered a few murmurs of approval, then someone in costuming said she would look totally hot in thigh-high boots and a kicky floral shift dress, at which point the character was pronounced “exciting” and “kick-ass.”
For those looking for a bit of accidental hilarity in a low budget flick, The Day does occasionally deliver. There are technical problems where the Foley goes renegade and the CGI produces warped faces and droplets of blood with jagged edges. Almost everyone in the film does stupid things just because the plot demands it. Most of the extras are obliging stuntmen, standing around and twiddling their thumbs until it’s their turn to run into a bullet or fail to duck a sword blow.
The Day doesn’t mean to, but it makes you want to watch other films. Better films, the films The Day ripped off, like Night of the Living Dead and The Road. You will feel compelled to rent a Daniel Day-Lewis movie to see an actual performance from the actor instead of a pale imitation. There’s a guy who is a little off center and bent for revenge because he lost his family, and you’ll start thinking about Mad Max or Death Wish or even Cyborg, anything, as long as you don’t have to think about The Day.