TIFF 2011: ‘The Day’ a worthy addition to the siege horror genre

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The Day

Written by Luke Passmore

Directed by Doug Aarniokoski


2011, USA

The Day delivers on the thrills one expects from a Midnight Madness screening: splatter kills, seat-crunching suspense and visceral action set pieces are delivered in meaty portions  guaranteed to have audiences screaming and clapping.   Director Doug Aarniokoski, who served as an assistant and second unit director on films ranging from Dollman vs. Demonic Toys to From Dusk Till Dawn, crafts a sparse, lean take on the siege horror tale, set against the backdrop of a ragtag group of survivors making their way across a sketchy, post-apocalyptic stretch of the U.S.

Dominic Monaghan (of Lost and The Lord of the Rings fame), brings here a lo-fi star power to his role as the clear-headed leader who is guiding a group of five (formerly twelve)  weapon-clad survivors including Shawn Ashmore, Shannyn Sossaman, Cory Hardrict and standout Ashley Bell (in a scene-stealing role as stoic and feral newcomer to the group, Mary) across a wasted grey and rainy landscape in the search for food and a safe haven.  When one of their group falls ill and begins to slows them down they take refuge within a seemingly abandoned dwelling to rest up.  Food, ammunition, and energy are all running low, nerves are frayed – and all this sparse yet sharply drawn background detail provides the very simple setup in the writing allowing the character dynamics to really shine.  A revelation about one of the party cleverly sets up splinters throughout the group that nicely help to frame the moral question of what it means to be human when faced with the survivalist imperative.

In the end, The Day presents a very conventional story and set-up which may have a been-there-done-that approach that may initially have eyes rolling as scripted by writer Luke Passmore.  However the sparseness in the overall story provides opportunities to reveal greater texturing in the character work.  For example, The stand-off that develops between Ashley Bell’s character within the group dynamic are powerful, virulent and interesting to see play out to their conclusions despite their simple introductions .  Bell and Sossaman also bring a great physicality and brute force to their roles and it is nice to see that Passmore’s script bucks the cliché of needlessly victimizing female characters by handicapping them without survivalist instincts and intelligence that might actually keep them alive.  The Day is a worthy addition to the siege horror genre and audiences need to keep an eye on Bell, who already turned heads in The Last Exorcism last year and is sure to gain new fans with this one.

Gregory Ashman

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