The true story of Nilsen is horrific enough, but even if Cold Light of Day were pure fiction, it would be scarily believable. Writer-director Fhiona-Louise follows the button-down and unassuming civil servant Jordan March (Bob Flag) as he goes about his day, helps one elderly neighbour, looks after another neighbour’s cat, drinks in his local pub. He meets men at this pub as well as a local café, and they have some good times together. And he kills them. The film is quite extraordinary in its ordinariness, presenting a picture of London (or any city) that is perfectly recognisable. Long takes and largely fixed cameras, as well as a limited number of quite drab sets, rather discordant sound and natural lighting all combine to create something that draws on British social realism. The term ‘kitchen sink drama’ would apply well to this film, especially during the scenes in March’s flat that are largely captured from static positions, with little in the way of close-ups or anything beyond the location of an uninvolved observer. This observation just happens to include serial murder.
The film offers nothing overtly stylised; perhaps it’s what Seven might look like with a smaller budget and realist aesthetic. Louise also skilfully cuts between different events, including March’s memories of childhood as well as his crimes informing the present-day action as the police interview him. Flag’s central performance is the epitome of rumpled: even when he gets angry, he seems downtrodden and browbeaten. Other performances are similarly low key and always believable, from the arrogant Joe (Martin Byrne-Quinn) who comes to live with March to Inspector Simmons (Geoffrey Greenhill) who interrogates him. The low-key approach is maintained throughout, giving the film an especially crawly feeling.
Cold Light of Day could be accused of homophobia due to the film’s focus on homosexual associations. However, no perversity is attached to March’s sexuality. The evil that he inflicts is something specific to him and shown to be sickening to everyone involved. The murder sequences are especially distressing as March keens and moans as he does so, and his subsequent moments of nausea, grief and sorrow ensure that we view a murderer as a person, subject to the same responses as anyone even after he has done something appalling. That is perhaps the most terrifying thing about Cold Light of Day: not only could this be anyone, but we can have sympathy and perhaps similarity with this serial killer. Therefore, are such impulses as alien as we might like to think, or could they arise in ourselves as well?