Among the many serial killer movies crowding the video racks, THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY stands out as a creepy, disturbing piece of work.
In an Eastern European village, a young girl is found murdered and stripped naked in the woods. A vagrant is arrested for the crime, despite the protests of detective Victor Marek (Richard E. Grant) that they have the wrong man. When the suspect kills himself, the police close the case. Victor
resigns from the force but continues to investigate on his own. Deducing that the killer traveled a certain roadway, Victor takes over operation of a gas station on the route and invites homeless mother and daughter Milena (Lynsey Baxter) and Anna (Perdita Weeks) to live with him in the adjoining
house. Victor hopes young Anna's presence will attract the real killer, and sure enough, she catches the attention of the psycho, pediatrician Vladimir Kozant (Simon Cadell).
Victor gradually develops real feelings for Milena, who has become suspicious of his activities, and finds himself compelled to tell her the truth. Furious, Milena makes ready to leave with Anna, and Victor's former police colleagues arrive to take him away. At the same time, however, Kozant has
lured Anna into the woods. Victor escapes from the cops and confronts him. Kozant takes Milena hostage, but Victor is able to outwit him and Milena shoots Kozant dead. Later, Victor and Milena are reconciled.
The character of a heroic cop protecting an innocent woman from a threatening psycho has become a cliche, but THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY adds a dark, compelling twist. Consumed by his pursuit of the madman, Victor initially thinks nothing of putting little Anna in danger and only confesses the truth to
Milena when it is almost too late. Grant is perfect for the role, possessing both the necessary edge and also the innate humanity to keep Victor from becoming overly unsympathetic. Baxter holds her own as a strong-willed woman who is anything but a helpless heroine, and Cadell is genuinely
frightening as the villain.
Dutch director Rudolf van den Berg, whose previous film THE JOHNSONS (1992) was more explicitly horrific, treads on some touchy ground in dealing with a child sex-killer. But his approach, while direct, remains unexploitative, and he creates several chillingly suggestive moments; the first we see
of Kozant, for example, is his hands gently pressing on a little girl's bare stomach in his clinic. Van den Berg also brings a redeeming panache to such token scenes as the killer fetishistically fondling children's dolls and the climactic standoff between Victor and Kozant, who is given a depth
of pathology not seen in most screen psychos.
The credits somewhat misstate the story's origins, citing the title of a German film (Es geschah am hellichten Tag, called IT HAPPENED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT in the US) also based on Friedrich Durrenmatt's book, which is actually titled Das Versprechen ("The Pledge"). This same novel was filmed again in 2001 as THE PLEDGE. (Violence, nudity, adult situations, profanity.)
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