Director: David McCracken, Joel Townsend, Kaidan Tremain
Writer: Joel Townsend, David McCracken
Producer: Josh Riedford, David McCracken
Stars: Jennifer Bacon, David McCracken, Josh Riedford, Sydney Morris, Jeanine Cameron, Patrick Andersen, Gretchin Irons, Eric Altheide, Bill Tush, Kris Zinn, Amber Beaty, Elliot Wasserman
An investigation into allegations of child abuse uncovers an unexpected connection to possible demonic possession.
A disturbingly oversexed teenager neck-deep in a phase of rebellion, a violently thrashing young boy with a vice-like bite, and a little girl with mysteriously disappearing bruises and a voice in her head have one common link in their child abuse cases. A priest named Father Patrick. For a trio of Child Protective Services workers in Daylight, Indiana, the investigation into these allegations initially appears like it leads to an obvious culprit. Except once they start peeling back the layers, the CPS workers come up with more questions than answers while uncovering a surprisingly supernatural connection to demonic possession.
The child abuse investigation angle is a far fresher frame for “found footage” horror than the usual amateur documentarians setting out to film a crumbling building or forest haunted by urban legends. Unfortunately, that starting point is where “Daylight” stops being original and finds itself caught with one foot in the jaws of common “found footage” trappings, and the other ensnared by a bewildering narrative.
“Daylight” winds down with an unexpected conclusion so surreal, it practically demands a reexamination of the preceding 80 minutes to decipher a meaning perhaps missed somewhere in the story’s telling. Upon actual reflection of the story’s structure, what one instead discovers is a fractured screenplay whose ideas are haphazardly random, not cleverly mystifying.
The fictional footage is comprised of two tapes, one discovered in 2005 and the other in 2008, although both were shot presumably around the same time. Why is that three-year gap in discovery significant? It isn’t. Not that it stops the movie from reminding the audience about it more than once, though.
Father Patrick is a cagey man. He never offers cryptic warnings or even makes outright suggestions regarding the true nature of the horror afflicting these children. It makes sense. He is wise enough to know the finger of blame will always point in his direction and not at a demon nonbelievers would guffaw at the mention of. What doesn’t make sense is that his turning over of a young girl’s journal documenting her torment is what inspires the CPS investigation in the first place. For a man wanting to deflect suspicion and to keep those involved to a minimum, publicizing the problem really isn’t in his best interests.
A time comes late in the film when the caseworkers are stranded in a remote home with frozen water pipes thanks to an uncooperative car. Apparently, the weather also freezes the phone lines, because there isn’t even the requisite scene of someone finding a dead landline or proclaiming, “our cell phones don’t work!” One of them goes for help and comes back the next day in a delusional daze. Another then mentions having been stuck in the house without water for two days. Two days? Where is this house that no one else tried walking back the way everyone came?
Acting quality is somewhere moderately above a community theater level without fully reaching out of control grandiosity. There is something bizarre about the dialogue’s audio highlighting performances even more unfavorably, though I can’t quite put my ear on it. I’d think the entire movie was done with ADR looping if line deliveries weren’t so perfectly lip-synched.
An experienced director could clean up the performances to a certain degree. Still, the staging of physical action showcases the amateur cast that the movie has to work with. “Daylight” has a number of scenes involving flailing, struggling, restraining, and fighting. All of them look like half-speed slap fests between petulant brats trying harder to avoid hurting themselves than to make their confrontations appear believable.
One girl’s mother alternately drags on a cigarette and bites her nails at rapid intervals to oversell anxiety. The priest answers questions while limply rearranging classroom furniture the way witnesses remain busy whenever a cop comes for a statement on “Law and Order.” These are acting exercises taken to extremes. “Daylight” overdoes it unnecessarily and without an eye for pitching the tone convincingly.
Undoubtedly, the film’s single greatest drawback is its look. I’ve seen dozens of “found footage” films. The exact number may be in triple digits by now. So when I say a movie is the worst at something, it is based on informed empirical data and not offered as glib hyperbole exaggerated for dramatic effect. A healthy majority of “found footage” films employ video glitches like distorted audio or skipped frames to achieve various effects. But no one, and I truly mean no one, is a worse offender at overusing video glitch effects than “Daylight.”
Picture the film’s VFX editor sitting in the post-production suite with a six-month-old baby in his/her lap. It’s as if the editor became distracted, turned his/her head, and allowed the baby to pound on buttons repeatedly the way children do upon discovering an infinitely fascinating new sound or image while also being unable to get enough of it. Like that incorrigibly hyperactive baby, the glitch effects become a beyond belief distraction, turning “Daylight” into a frustratingly annoying viewing experience begging to be disliked.
The film finally boils up some heat with a climax short on sense, but at least long on action. Demonic possession subtexts are disregarded in favor of alternate reality time-warping that turns up the tension, yet at a point where it no longer matters. Having endured 90 minutes of painfully grating visuals and acting with the effort of a dress rehearsal, “Daylight” delivers to an audience now longing only for the copyright notice to appear and make it all go away.
The acting could be stronger. The picture quality could be sharper. Even then, the marginal impact those improvements might make wouldn’t be enough to tip “Daylight” past being an average “found footage” thriller with an original framing premise, and an unexciting everything else.
Review Score: 35