Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Sunrise: The Blood-Consuming “Red Coat”

It is tempting to think of the “Red Coat” as a vampire, especially (apparently) if you are writing copy for a film about it. Yet, even though the forest spirit of Northwest Native mythos feeds on blood, it shares little in common with traditional vampire lore. Whatever you call it, the Red Coat is still dangerous to provoke in Andrew Baird’s Sunrise, which releases in theaters and on-demand this Friday.

Reynolds runs this depressed town like an old school crime boss. Unfortunately, he is also a virulently racist boss, so he is not what you call welcoming to the Loi family (recently immigrated from China). If Mr. Loi had just signed over their farm, Reynolds might have let him live, but he killed him for refusing.

Since the body never surfaced, Yan Loi has been living in limbo, but her teen son has given up hope. He still has some fight left in him, despite the regular bullying, but his secret high school flirtation with a white girl could bring down a great deal of trouble on the family. Reynolds wants to run off the Loi’s for good anyway, but the mysterious Fallon interrupts the latest attempt. He used to be the law in these parts before the Loi’s arrived, but as far as they know, he is a sullen drifter with a bizarre appetite for blood—mostly animal, at least for now (and he can walk around in the daylight, despite the title).

Baird and screenwriter Ronan Blaney deserve credit for trying to do something new and different in the supernatural genre. However, the final film’s pacing is so deliberate and restrained, it is debatable whether
Sunrise can be properly categorized as horror. The burn is definitely slow in this one.

On the other hand, the atmosphere and grim sense of place is highly potent. Evil palpably hangs over this community, so viewers will emphatically root for some payback in the E.C. tradition. The cast is also quite impressive, particularly Alex Pettyfer, who plays Fallon with a quiet, seething intensity that is unusually disconcerting (especially for an ostensive “good guy”).

Guy Pearce also chews the scenery like nobody’s business as Reynolds. His is certainly a sinister villain, but much of his dialogue is over-written. His long racist diatribes sound like they were written for the audience’s benefit, to show us what troglodytes like Reynolds really think. However, in reality, guys like him are usually bluntly to the point.

Crystal Yu solidly anchors the film as Yan Loi and Olwen Fouere is creepy as heck as Ma Reynolds, who has adopted some of the Native beliefs, much to her close-minded son’s chagrin. The cast is strong, the predictable writing much less so.

The vibe and texture of
Sunrise are quite distinctive. Ultimately, it does not quite come together, but genre fans should be open to considering Baird’s next film, because there is considerable technical and aesthetic merit to Sunrise. A near miss, Sunrise releases this Friday (1/19) in theaters and on-demand.