Sunrise Review: Vampire Thriller Tackles Racism, Then Loses Its Bite

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Summary

  • Sunrise is a vampire thriller that explores racism and xenophobia through a brooding horror lens.
  • The film treats bloodlust as an addiction and portrays those afflicted as feared creatures known as the “Red Coat.”
  • While the film has intriguing themes and strong performances, it falls apart in a poorly edited and lackluster third act.


Sunrise is a deeply atmospheric thriller that explores murder, racism, and xenophobia through a measured horror lens. The tense film treats bloodlust as an addiction of the cursed. Those afflicted, known simply as the “Red Coat,” are doomed to wander the misty woods as a feared creature until fate intervenes. But the film’s intriguing open and relevant societal themes fall completely apart in a poorly edited, lackluster third act.

Set in the Pacific Northwest, the plot follows an Asian widow and her children, who are defended from a brutal white supremacist by a mysterious, vampiric loner. It starts with farm owner Loi (Chike Chan), who sits quietly before Reynolds (Guy Pearce) and his intimidating goons. He remains steadfast under a barrage of cruel racial slurs.

Loi won’t sell his farm at any cost, insisting he and his family have done nothing wrong, and deserve to be left alone in peace. Reynolds explodes in fury. He claims Loi and his kind are a cancer tainting the land, and Reynolds will excise them as a matter of principle.

Sunrise
Sunrise

Release Date
January 19, 2024

Director
Andrew Baird

Runtime
1hr 24min

Writers
Ronan Blaney
Pros
  • Director Andrew Baird sets a good brooding mood in Sunrise.
  • Guy Pearce is particularly good as a dangerous racist.
Cons
  • Characters behave irrationally in an unrealistic way.
  • The clumsy ending is a massive disappointment.

Six months later, Loi’s son, Edward (William Gao), returns home after another day of bullying at school. His mother Yan (Crystal Yu) and younger sister Emily (Riley Chung) ask what happened to his face. Edward doesn’t answer.

Reynolds owns the town now, and everyone in it. A fact Yan faces when she runs into the sneering Reynolds and his insults later at the grocery store. When Edward hears a noise in the barn, he goes to investigate, and sees a man crumpled in the shadows. Edward recoils in fear when the stranger (Alex Pettyfer) whispers hoarsely for blood. Edward timidly asks, “Are you the Red Coat?”


The Mysterious Red Coat

Sunrise initially stands firm on strong performances. The venerable Pearce oozes venom and lethality as an avowed racist. He represents a familiar archetype in white nationalism: immigrants are destroying the country, they’re mentally and physically inferior, and, most egregiously, they are diluting an ethnically pure population through miscegenation.

Reynolds’ daughter (Sophie Boldt) having a crush on Edward is the worst-case scenario realized, for Reynolds. This fierce animosity was bred into Reynolds by his ruthless and domineering mother (Olwen Fouéré). They crush anyone who opposes them, or who is different, with extreme prejudice.

Crystal Yu represents the other end of the spectrum. She reminds Edward of their family’s arduous journey in search of the American dream. Their current situation is another hardship they must overcome. But Yan and Edward aren’t fools. They’re keenly aware of Reynolds’ threats, and know he must have been responsible for their father’s death.

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Alex Pettyfer’s character isn’t revealed in the first act. Edward doesn’t have a clue if he’s a man or a demon, but he doesn’t frighten his little sister, and seems drawn to them. The reason why is answered as the plot progresses. Any doubts about the stranger’s value vanish once Edward and his mother see his abilities. Reynolds, his men, and his vile mother have met their match — there’s a long overdue debt to be settled.

Director Andrew Baird, who previously worked with Pearce on the underrated sci-fi thriller Zone 414, makes a concerted effort to avoid most vampire tropes. The Red Coat isn’t transforming into a bat and hunting virgins in a cape. His thirst for blood is akin to an addict needing a fix. It doesn’t have to be human, but he’s frail and weak without it. Sunrise delves into indigenous mythology, but takes a predictable turn when the script unfortunately starts to unravel.

A Flawed Finale

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The revelation of Pettyfer’s true identity lands with a thud, and then goes in an obvious direction that makes little sense for the characters involved. Reynolds’ foaming-at-the-mouth obstinacy becomes a crutch for stupidity. A man who ruled so many with an iron fist should smell something peculiar about his latest enemy — but he doesn’t.

The same IQ lapse also affects Yan, who acts irrationally in a scatterbrained climax. The film devolves into manufactured tension when it had smartly avoided the easy route before.

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A baffling ending threatens to torpedo the entire narrative. It takes place in a random setting that has nothing to do with what previously transpired. Clumsy blocking, character hysteria, and bizarre editing cause the action to look foolish. The finale also has no cinematic flow. It feels haphazardly staged, like a pivotal connecting scene was missing. Which is especially disappointing, because Sunrise was markedly different in the horror genre until it succumbed to contrivances.

There is another aspect to Sunrise that must be brought up. Much like Clint Eastwood’s treatment of Asians in Gran Torino, this film would have caused an uproar if Reynolds’ vitriol was aimed towards another race. That’s worth noting and speaks volumes. It’s not added criticism, but is a hard truth that cannot be ignored.

Sunrise is a production of Grindstone Entertainment Group, 23ten, Source Management + Production, and Northern Ireland Screen. It is currently available on demand and digital from Lionsgate through platforms like Vudu, YouTube, and below on Google Play.

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