DAYTIME NIGHTMARE * UK 2020 Dir: Katrina Grey. 85 mins
In this rather insane world we now have, the nightmare can be real for many. Some retreat into a fantasy world or believe in theories for comfort because the real world cannot possibly be so bleak. The debut independent film by writer, director and star Katrina Grey called DAYTIME NIGHTMARE offers a personal vision of one person’s descent. The decent is gradual and in this case ends with a thud. Well, more of a whimper.
The story is a simple one. Lucy (Katrina Grey) is a teacher who begins a decent into madness, prompted by strange happenings she experiences. Lucy wants to be a full time actress, so she takes acting classes. It is here where we meet her friends. This is where the film begins to fall apart. These individuals take up too much screen time and occupy an oversized role in the film’s world.
One of them is Ron Smoorenburg, who plays Ryan. He does some pretty nifty fight moves in a moment of authenticity and gets slapped quite well by fellow student Katie. We also have a bearded gay man called John (John Flano), a happy, older woman Amy (Bonnie Zellerbach) and Raluca Porumbacu as flamboyant Katie. Alexander Winters play the pretty boy; an acting hopeful and love interest. The dialogue sounds improvised, and actions are natural. But this is a film, not real life. Dialogue and action must be delivered effectively and for the screen, not via casual toss off. This is not the French New Wave style. Therefore, the giddy smiles, mumbles and sexual banter which seem have been to be put in to titillate come off as vapid.
Lucy seems to float and smile through this world, and that offering would have been stronger if the film had shown the emptiness of the people and the world as her madness shrinks it down. If you are going to do background you must make it interesting. DAYTIME NIGHTMARE becomes a nightmare to watch for the first 57 minutes. The film doesn’t know if it wants to be a horror film or a thriller. Or both. When the terrors start and insanity deepens, it becomes even more difficult to sort out.
The main trouble stems from the screenplay itself. It is built around the premise of driving Lucy insane with padding on either end of the story to make it a film. There are inaccuracies galore and glaring film making errors. I will only mention those that stood out for me. The spine of story is weak since you are never told why Lucy is being driven insane. There is a hint at the end as to why but it is not effective enough to form a base for what happens. That doesn’t wash in film as it is an essential plot point.
You have an acting teacher giving Lucy and her new friends acting exercises that no self-respecting teacher of the art would do. The acting class scenes are meant to show the characters’ relationships and the burgeoning fluffy love between Lucy and Ryan. No theatrical director or teacher would let students stand face to face for an entire scene without movement or a change of angle to illustrate the dynamics of a conversation. The only time when the acting teacher shows a glimmer of truth is when he tells Katie to use a different hand to slap Ryan (she amusingly ignores his direction).
Lucy’s occupation is that of a teacher, yet she has no books, computer, clutter or certificates to be seen in her room. Instead it is a wonderful villa, all in white with great appliances. The business of teaching must be good to have such accommodation. Lucy’s wardrobe of choice is questionable for the occupation as most academics dress practically. Even glasses on Lucy would have been a welcome if not stereotypical touch. Two of the film’s bright spots are the performance of Lucy’s roommate Sarah played (Christiana Chaitanya), who totally steals the film, along with Raluca Porumbacu as Katie. Sarah has a distinctive look, voice, and movement that begs to be seen more. Sarah and Katie get some of the film’s (few) best. Katie has the wonderful slapping scene with Ryan, and they both look like that was fun. Katie also has the film’s best insane moments, one of which happens when she attacks Lucy in the water. These two really bring the film to life and engage the audience. The rest of the merry band of Lucy’s actor friends are simply wasted.
People in this film take pills with wine. Who mixes medication with liquor except those wanting trouble? Is this the source of Lucy’s madness? When a doctor or a medical person comes in to the story in the person of Dr Wilson (David Asavanond), he makes a reference to schizophrenia running in Lucy’s family and doesn’t follow up on it. This is inexcusable, as advocates for those who experience schizophrenia around the globe have been fighting hard to change the perception of the disease.
On a positive note, technically the picture looks wonderful. Yan Frame is the cinematographer but the film suffers from horrid direction and editing for pace. DAYTIME NIGHTMARE runs 85 minutes telling one that there is a lot missing in the story. There are interesting angles and some moments yes, but overall it is sluggish. Not one single jump scare in the whole film that is needed to literally wake the audience up.
Executive Producer Randi Kalsi serves as the sound designer, mixer, editor and theme music creator plus appears on camera as a cab driver. Kalsi underplays the moments in the film, but when you have no shock moments to score, then the effect become trivial.
Shocks are not in DAYTIME NIGHTMARE, with the possible exception of Katie and her swimming incident. The insane episodes pay (perhaps unknowingly) homage to THE SHINING (1980) in a dance sequence and a smattering of TOURIST TRAP (1979) with mannequins and humans. Polanski’s REPULSION (1965) also came to mind in moments with staring eyes.
Katrina Grey’s performance is one of posturing, smiles, looking coy, muttering in a meek voice and screaming that she does somewhat adeptly. If you are the lead, you have to carry the film and it just is not there, similar to Hilary Duff in THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE (2019). Writing, directing and acting in a film is tough on anyone and Katrina Grey should be applauded for trying. The result, though, is what is on the screen.
DAYTIME NIGHTMARE is a wasted opportunity except for some isolated performances by Raluca Porumbacu as the totally alive edgy Katie and the underused subtly evil Christiana Chaitanya as Sarah. Both should have been given more screen time. Honorable mention to Ron Smoorenburg as Ryan who also deserves than what he gets here.
For what it is worth, DAYTIME NIGHTMARE (2020) has been selected for many now virtual film festivals, even winning awards for acting and directing for Katrina Grey and sound for Randy Kalsi. Interesting.
DAYTIME NIGHTMARE (2020) is a ‘student’ film by a first time director, writer, and actor so it plays like one. This picture would benefit from a strong re work on the script to add grit to the situations. A genre director would add pace and fortitude. So if you like your terror and thrills low key then DAYTIME NIGHTMARE is for you.
Review by Terry Sherwood