Rent it now: American crime drama with a European flavor

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We have grown so used to the cliches of Hollywood suspense pictures that when a film like “Daylight” comes along with a fresh approach to the genre, it can prove to be exceptionally startling and upsetting for audiences.

The independently produced drama follows an upper class couple who make the terrible mistake of picking up a hitchhiker after they get lost driving to a family wedding.

The relationship of Daniel (Aidan Redmond) and Irene (Alexandra Meierhans) seems vaguely abrasive in the opening moments — despite the fact that she is hugely pregnant — and some in the audience will be put off by the casual affluence represented by the Maserati they ride in and the couple’s vaguely foreign accents.

Daniel only stops for Renny (Michael Godere) because he’s lost and irritated. After the young man explains how they can get back on track, he guilt trips Daniel into taking him where he’s going.

Moments later, weapon in hand, Renny forces Daniel to pick up his partner in crime, Leo (Ivan Martin), and he directs them to a nearby rambling country home.

Director David Barker and his writing collaborators Godere and Meierhans adopt an observational mode in which very little is explained to us — we have to piece together who these young men are and what their motives might be, just as if we are in the position of the abducted couple.

It takes a while to catch on to the fact that the beautiful house was the scene of a home invasion and that the occupants — whoever they might have been — were killed.

“Daylight” doesn’t become overtly frightening until the chilling scene in which Renny casually prepares to slit Daniel’s throat. The terrified man convinces his abductors that he can get them a pile of money at the family estate he and his wife were driving to.

What makes the movie so frightening is that we never really glean what is driving Renny and Leo — are they simply thrill killers who want to torture and dispatch two more victims or do they have some bigger plan in store for Irene and Daniel?

The way Barker mixes a predominantly cool emotional tone with a feeling of dread reminded me of the films of the Austrian director Michael Haneke, who has divided art house audiences with his deeply unsettling dramas “Funny Games,” “Cache” and “The White Ribbon.”

The absence of thriller and horror movie cliches is reflected in the understated performances of the very fine ensemble. Neither the director nor the actors push us toward or away from the characters, so we find ourselves sometimes sympathetic to the killers and also put off by the “victims.”

The movie’s title becomes ironic as we are taken into an unimaginably dark situation and then left to our own devices — some moviegoers will find the approach liberating (as I did) and others will be angered by Barker’s rigorous refusal to resort to emotional manipulation.

Joe Meyers

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