September 12, 2013

Daglicht (2013)

"Some family secrets cannot bear the daylight."

Based on the bestselling novel by Marion Pauw, "Daglicht" is a Dutch movie which is bound to get the same Hollywood remake treatment as "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" once the "powers-that-be" get wind of it. Unlike "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" though, this movie is very formulaic and will appeal to the lowest common denominator rather than the more cerebral.

"Daglicht" (meaning "Daylight") is a polished but predictable European thriller which seems cleverer than it needs to be until you start picking away at the details. Much debated theories about genetics which pave the way for far-fetched discovery contrivances are more likely to be met with a shrug by today's "look it up" generation and laughter from those who know better, and once you realise that the mystery aspect is so easy to solve, it's only worth watching to see your hunches played out.

Maybe that's the point of the thriller genre anyway, but as entertaining as such predictability may be, we're so many years on from "Columbo" and "Murder She Wrote" that I'm surprised how something this simple could still work. Apart from one problem solving spectacle, I'm certain that everything in "Daglicht" has been done to death in soap operas too.

Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil "Daglicht" by deconstructing the entire plot because it's definitely worth watching with no prior knowledge of what it's about, but a visit to afterwards will make you feel quite foolish for liking any of it. Mind you, I could say the same thing about 99% of the movies made in the last 40 years because that's just the way things are. Change the character names and locations, and we're always being resold the same half-dozen stories.

If you don't want even minor spoilers, stop reading now!

Great production values and a fine cast of Dutch actors including Derek de Lint, Fedja van Huêt, and Monique van de Ven barely cover the superficial dialogue, unrealistic relationships, and rushed situations. Everything may look good, especially Angela Schijf as Iris (and Matteo van der Grijn as Bo for the ladies), but "Daglicht" often feels like a glorified TV movie with abrupt scene changes which would normally be hidden by commercial breaks.

It's not that things jump haphazardly from one scene to the next as there is a logical progression, albeit with a few flashbacks, but many clues are revealed without reason or compulsion. Hardly any work is put into investigating other than a few interviews, and infuriatingly, the dead ends or red herrings which crop up are simply abandoned. For example, how Iris goes from one internet search to another with such precision is never explained, and the crucial cover-ups are probably the worst kept secrets in the entire history of cover-ups. When every major character is so willing to talk, it makes the minor characters who refuse to reveal information look ridiculous. Worse than that, some characters don't seem to serve any purpose at all, especially Thijs Römer's initially interesting but entirely superfluous role.

To give credit where it's due, the make-up on Fedja van Huêt (who plays both the younger and older Ray) is as outstanding as his acting, but he's not a million miles away from being a less sympathetic clone of "Rain Man". Thus, for every point in its favour, "Daglicht" has several more against it. The deal breaker for me is that the kid who plays Iris's son is annoying to the point of making you want to see something very bad and extremely painful happen to him, but sadly, nothing does.

Angela Schijf and Derek De Lint. Cool.

"Daglicht" was released theatrically in the Netherlands on April 11th this year, but has been leaked to the internet before getting even an official UK DVD release. I may be cynical, but the very high quality of the streams which I've seen suggest that rather than being uploaded by pirates, it was done by the producers themselves to avoid an international distribution deal for a movie which they realise isn't that good and use that loss to make it easier to pitch the idea of a remake directly to Hollywood. Stranger things have happened.

In its still pre-Hollywood remake favour though, "Daglicht" does attempt to show the negative repercussions of mental retardation. Despite going out of its way to reinforce the bullshit myth of idiot savants, the fact that Ray's own mother can't cope with him after his emotionless animal cruelty is only one example of the darker side.

Bearing in mind that nothing in "Daglicht" is as controversial as any of the statements I made above, there are a couple of gratuitously shocking moments, but the ickiness factor is very underplayed. Its superficial portrayal of mental health problems mean that "Daglicht" is hardly another "Loving Walter" (1982), nor could it ever be. Gritty realism would have made "Daglicht" something that everybody would want to talk about rather than another example of pulp.

Nice poster!

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