by Morgan Cairns
“I’m a big fan of where grindhouse and arthouse meet. Those are the types of movies I like to watch, those are the types of movies I like to make,” reflects multi-talented Cameron MacGowan
We’re sitting in MacGowan’s office at the University of Calgary’s campus television station, NUTV, where he is Executive Director; just one of MacGowan’s many hats. He is a lead programmer at the Calgary Underground Film Fest (CUFF), a producer, writer, and now, a feature film director.
Having made a handful of short films in 15 years, some screened at international festivals, MacGowan makes his feature film debut with self-penned horror-thriller, Red Letter Day. A modern invasion story, the film follows a recently divorced single mother and her two teenagers who, shortly after relocating to the quiet Calgary suburbs, receive mysterious letters instructing them to kill their neighbors before their neighbors kill them. What ensues is blood-drenched thriller with a family attempting to rationally deal with an irrational situation.
“I wanted to write a script where people are trying to be polite in a very chaotic situation,” explains MacGowan. “In some of these communities, you don’t know who your neighbour is, because everybody just lives inside of their houses. So you have no idea how these people are going to respond to it (the mysterious letters), and I just wanted to have a lot of fun with that.”
After sitting on the cash to make his first feature for a few years, MacGowan took a practical, though perhaps unconventional approach, to writing the screenplay.
“I had to write a script that I could make for a small amount of money but look like it was a polished, professional production. I wanted to write around locations I knew we could get, and what is Calgary full of? Suburban sprawl. Having grown up as a punk in suburban neighbourhoods, I had a lot say about what that situation can do to its inhabitants.”
Growing up as the rebellious suburban teen of a single mom proved to be exactly the information MacGowan needed when he sat down to write his script.
“I was thinking about myself in this situation, if I was a kid, and how the pieces would fall together, and I really just saw my mother as this, not heroic type of figure, but this person of action. What if it was my Mom in this situation instead of a Liam Neeson type?”
Where his previous films where from the perspective of a young man, MacGowan says writing from the point of view of a middle-aged Mom he was able to access a new realm of narrative possibilities.
“By having a role that you typically don’t see on screen, I was able to come up with more funny and original ideas that I feel people haven’t seen before.”
MacGowan also considers the film to be a representation of himself. “The teenage son is definitely me. The teenage daughter is me too, though. The asshole boyfriend is me. They’re all facets of an internal debate I had with myself.”
Carrying forward his ethos as a programmer, MacGowan seeks to make films that not only entertain, but serve to elevate their genre, and horror films are no exception.
“We’re starting to throw around this term “elevated horror,” and they’re starting to be a bit more respected. Films like It Follows or Get Out, are really teaching people that genre films can have a social message. I’m just happy that the rest of society has caught up with what horror fans have known all along.”
Red Letter Day screens as part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival at The Globe Cinema on Friday, April 26 at 7:00 p.m.