Film Review: Daylight

David Barker&#8217;s low-key, art-house variation on &#8220;terrorized couple&#8221; thrillers pits a pregnant woman and her husband against three kidnappers whose motives and desires are frighteningly vague. <i>The Last House on the Left </i>crowd wil

Swiss-born Irene (Alexandra Meierhans) and her English husband (Aidan Redmond) are en route to a wedding somewhere in upstate New York. Irene, hugely pregnant, is flushed and tired; Daniel is on edge at the thought of seeing her wealthy father, from whom he borrowed and subsequently lost a large sum of money he’s in no position to pay back. The trip gets off to a bad start when Daniel hits a mourning dove and has to put it out of its misery.

And then they take the inevitable wrong turn and are forced to ask directions from an apparently benevolent stranger named Renny (Michael Godere) who is, just as inevitably, nothing of the kind. Renny then forces them to pick up his much less benevolent-seeming friend, Leo (Ivan Martin). Daniel tries to reassure Irene that all they want is the car—who wouldn’t want the shiny new Maserati (a gift, of course, from Irene’s father)? Except perhaps a bunch of backwoods American trash who can’t drive stick, which means they have to keep Daniel to drive and Irene to ensure he doesn’t act on any heroic ideas.

Their destination is a spacious house a few miles down the road, where Leo and Renny’s friend Murph (Brian Bickerstaff) is waiting. Once the abductors have separated Irene and Daniel, he sizes up the situation with brutal accuracy. They probably won’t hurt Irene immediately, but sooner or later they almost certainly will: Neither Renny nor Leo appears to be a flat-out psychopath—Murph is still a wild card—but she’s a witness. They have every reason to kill him now, because the longer this situation—whatever the situation is—goes on, the more likely he is to do something desperate in defense of his wife and unborn child. So he gambles on greed: His father in law is a rich man, he tells them, a rich man who’ll happily pay a lot of money to ensure his family’s safety. And he’s just a few miles away, at the wedding for which they were headed when they picked up Renny.

As in all the best movies of this kind, the focus is less on the spectacle of violence than the anticipation of violence, and on the seething hostility between haves and have-nots that make real communication impossible: What one says is never exactly what the other hears, which makes the rare moments when they seem to find a sliver of common ground almost unbearable. Barker and his cast of collaborators—Meierhans and Godere share screenplay credit with Barker; Martin and Redmond are credited with dialogue—systematically tease out the story’s human dimensions: the subtle undercurrents of unhappiness under the surface of Daniel and Irene’s relationship, the faintly homoerotic buzz that charges Renny and Leo’s competitive “I love you, man” horseplay; Irene’s terrified cat-and-mouse game with her captors, played with increasingly steely resolve.

Daylight is a slow burn of a thriller that ultimately packs a far greater wallop than many flashier examples of the genre, and its cumulative power derives from the collective contributions of the entire cast and crew, from production designer Elliot Hostetter to editors Katie McQuerrey and Lee Percy and composer Stewart Wallace.