Dawn doesn't immediately sound like it has much promise.
A low budget zombie film, starring and directed by a cast member
of woeful British soap opera Emmerdale isn't
really the sort of thing that fills me with anticipation. And
for the first thirty minutes or so of the film, it seemed as though
my worst fears had been confirmed, with director Dominic Brunt
and Joanne Mitchell as a couple who head off to the countryside
in a last ditch attempt to salvage their crumbling marriage. The
film at this stage feels like an earnest student production –
visually uninteresting and with two characters that are unconvincing
(ironic, given that they are a real life couple) as they trot
out half-baked platitudes and clichés.
However, it's worth sticking with, as the film improves a fair
amount after this first act. When Mitchell is bitten by a blood-soaked
man while out jogging, the pair have to try to struggle through
both the zombie apocalypse – which, thanks to being cut
off with no outside communication, they are blissfully unaware
of until it's too late – and their own crumbling relationship
(yes, it's another metaphorical zombie movie). As his wife succumbs
to the infection, Brunt becomes more and more desperate to save
her and return their lives to what they once were.
As a claustrophobic two-hander, Before Dawn has
some genuinely impressive moments – the surprisingly graphic
zombie attacks, the clinging to small glimmers of hope and the
rather bleak ending (which is unfortunately spoiled by the final
moment, slipping back into horror cliché) all lift this
out of the run-of-the-mill zombie tale, and help compensate for
the rather uninspired visual style and moments of clunky dialogue.
The atmosphere is marred somewhat by the intrusion of fellow survivor
Nicky Evans, who mumbles his way through some exposition while
being almost cartoonishly untrustworthy. His presence does allow
one of the film's twists on zombie lore though – the idea
that after feeding, the living dead temporarily regain some sense
of self. It's this that allows the film to set up the grand tragedy
of the story, and Brunt is convincing as a man who watches everything
he's loved taken away from him.
Before Dawn is far from perfect, and I'm still
not convinced that we needed another zombie film. But there are
interesting ideas here that lift it out of the glut of SOV gut
munchers, and you suspect that with a bigger budget, better photography
and a more original central idea, Brunt – clearly a fan
of the genre – could make something genuinely impressive.
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