Before Dawn is self-confessed horror and zombie enthusiast, Dominic Brunt’s first foray into filmmaking. Dominic found fame as Emmerdale’s longstanding vet, Paddy Kirk and has stapled his horror credentials to his sleeve as regular horror host of Leeds Zombie Film Festival. As a stranger to neither the genre nor the screen Before Dawn has all the trappings for an inventive slab of zombie fare. But does it deliver?
It’s clear from the off that estranged couple Alex and Meg, played by real-life husband and wife Brunt and Mitchell, have a suitcase full of issues but neither the state of their relationship nor the root of their troubles are revealed until around the halfway point. The two fallen lovers make their way to the countryside for a vacation which they hope will patch up their difficulties and provide some much-needed ‘us’ time. Unfortunately it takes thirty minutes for us to get to this point, delays include: mentioning a picture which their kid has drawn as if it’s a significant part of the story but neither showing the picture in shot nor referring back to it ever again, spending far too long on recording the drive itself – in particular the motorway segments – and a general sense of most scenes outstaying their welcome (please cut away and make the film pacier). Now, slow-pace and lingering over shots could be forgiven if it were to create suspense or serve some cinematic purpose – alas, it does not.
Once inside the holiday home the couple reveal more of their relationship issues – we’re treated to a setup scene which nicely outlines the couple’s predicament and creates a tense atmosphere and terrible sense of foreboding. Unfortunately the shots are poor: a wine bottle blocks the bulk of the action, heads are frequently cut out of view and, at times, the camera is so incredibly shaky you’d think this was meant to be a found footage documentary. It isn’t.
It’s refreshing to see a zombie film which doesn’t go down the all guns blazing and all zombies charging road but rather focuses on character development (after all it’s that human connection that we all really respond to). The problem is that the acting’s so wooden and the script lacking that we really don’t end up caring much for the protagonists. Much better films which concentrate on characterisation in the midst of an apocalypse include The Road and Remnants (directed by Peter Engert). Yet there certainly should be a little leeway in that Before Dawn was filmed on a shoestring budget and in just fourteen days. But whatever that ‘leeway’ is there are better zombie films shot in similar conditions. Take for example the original classics Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead or more recently Marc Price’s Colin, or even the adaptation of David Moody’s Autumn starring Dexter Fletcher – a flick which is no means flawless in itself (although you should read Moody’s novel, Autumn for an excellent character study where the zombie apocalypse is almost incidental).
There are sparks of originality which seldom punctuate Before Dawn such as the reveal that the zombification may be able to save the couple’s relationship (moreso than simply bringing the two closer) in a twist which is eerily similar to Joseph D’Lacey’s short story ‘Food of Love’ (similarities are incidental as both were released around the same time). Another standout moment sees the introduction of Stephen, played by Nicky Evans of Shameless fame, but unfortunately at this point the pace has been so damningly slow and stilted that you’re left waiting for the zombies to take out the cast and put us all out of our misery.
But, what of the zombies? Well, Before Dawn has opted for fast-moving zombies and in the tradition of [Rec] a sparse number of them. The zombies come across as more cabaret than convincing. This means that the five-minute long garage scene is at first hilarious but soon grows tedious. This is particularly frustrating as it has the potential to scare and create real tension but fails to do so.
And really that sums up the entire film. Before Dawn is the product of passion from a zombie-enthusiast which under the right guidance had the potential to be something more. One can’t help but wondering if the mistake here was for Dominic to star, direct and edit (perhaps delegation has its advantages, particularly for a first time director) setting himself an impossible task. Still, we’ll keep an eye out for Dominic’s future films and keep our fingers crossed that he can hit closer to the mark. Unfortunately we cannot possibly recommend Before Dawn. For fast zombies go back to Danny Boyle’s now decade-old 28 Days Later, for budget zombies say hello to one of Mr. Romero’s first two outings and for a horror film with soap opera roots check out Lawrence Gough’s Salvage.
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