In the annals of British serial killers, Dennis Nilsen is generally regarded as one of the most gruesome and unpleasant. Nilsen was a middle-aged Scottish civil servant who systematically preyed upon and murdered a series of young men and boys in late 70s and early 80s London. In addition to strangling his victims, he made sexual use of the corpses and tried to dispose of the remains down his toilet. As with many serial killers, the crude mixture of horror and mundanity inherent in the story has drawn the attention of filmmakers. Most recently, the Nilsen story has been portrayed in the recent TV miniseries Des, starring David Tennant, but the story had already been captured onscreen in the little known 1989 film, Cold Light of Day. In that case, writer/director Fhiona-Louise chose to change the names and locations involved, but the facts and events remain broadly true to life.
The film opens with the arrest and interrogation of Nilsen (Bob Flag), here named Jordan March, where he recounts the events surrounding the murders and his disposal of the bodies. The film ponders at length over his day-to-day routines and his relationships with his neighbours, as well as the gruesome murders themselves.
Being utterly frank, this is a dull and plodding experience, which barely scrapes by on almost every filmmaking level. The artistic choice to shoot on 16mm film gives the film an authentic and gritty feel, but it also just adds to the general feeling of cheapness. That’s not helped by some truly woeful sound editing that cuts in and out far from the visual cuts it is trying to match. There is a stylistic quaintness and a unique aesthetic to it, that much is true – but it’s one that simply adds to the wretched feel of it all.
The actors do their best with the material, to varying results, and credit must go to Bob Flag, who puts his all into the role, casting the memory of 1984‘s Big Brother far from the audience’s mind. The other actors fare better or worse mostly with little or nothing to work with. Although the scenes themselves mostly work, they are unfocused and badly paced, almost all of which are shot in a single long take. The end result of which is almost as if you’ve been watching a play, but one that needs drastically tightened up around the edges.
The Blu-ray package itself does marginally better than the film, including two commentaries, with one by the director herself. There are also a pair of short films which, together with Cold Light of Day, comprise the entirety of her cinematic career. Rounding it out are a series of featurettes and interviews with some of the cast, as well as a visit to some of the filming locations.
Ultimately, devotees of serial killer films and obscure horror aficionados will presumably take an interest in this release. Everyone else would be best advised not to waste their time.
Available on Blu-ray from Arrow Films from Mon 26 Oct 2020