Thursday, November 11, 2010

In short: Damned By Dawn (2009)

Claire (Renee Willner) and her boyfriend Paul (Danny Alder) are visiting Claire's family way out in the middle of nowhere. Claire is concerned about the health of her grandmother (Dawn Klingberg), and mystified by a package containing an urn the old lady sent her. She's also very conscious that this might be the time to say goodbye to the old lady. The very first night in the family home is disturbed when peculiar screams coming from outside wake up everyone. While the menfolk are going out to look who or what is causing the ruckus, the women of the family stay in the house alone, and are soon visited by the cause of the noise: it's the family banshee (Bridget Neval) coming to see grandma off!

After a game of peek-a-boo, Claire gets so frightened by the appearance of the supernatural creature that she pushes the poor dear off a balcony. The banshee is highly displeased and awakens a handful of undead whose bodies just happen to be buried right by the house. These dead people have no sense of humour at all, and start killing off the family members one after the other. Possibly even worse is the fact that these dead come back too and proceed to make the survivors' night even more miserable.

The Australian Damned By Dawn is another case of a movie that is just not bad enough to annoy or to delight, yet also not good enough to be all that satisfying. First time writer/director Brett Anstey's film suffers from some of the typical flaws low budget movies have to fight with. The special effects are just plain bad. Worse, they even manage to combine two very different types of badness - simply atrocious sub-SciFi-Channel-level CGI for the more ghostly dead and the make-up of The Crow for the Evil Dead style talkative freshly dead; I think the combination of the two makes the effects feel even worse than they would if Anstey had gone with only one type of crap effects work.

The writing shows a complete inability to build up tension properly. Anstey's already running off to the directly horrific when he should still be easing his viewers into the situation and acquainting them with his characters; consequently, I never found any reason to care about the situation or the characters, even though the acting is better than could be expected. It sure doesn't help Damned by Dawn's case that "pushing a banshee off a balcony" is one of the silliest reasons for an infestation of the undead I've ever encountered in a film not made in Italy.

Damned by Dawn isn't a complete waste of time, though. The last act sees the movie find its feet a little, and while it is still not impressive, it coheres a bit better and even contains some scenes that are perfectly serviceable. For one, there's a stupidly fun gross-out moment in the Italian style concerning a dead guy, puking, bugs and guts that won't win any friends of tastefulness in horror over, but is well worth a smile. For two, Claire's final girl moments are working well enough they could be called mildly exciting, if not for the much too close look the film provides of its The Crow undead at this point.

Sure, that's not much, but it's still more than a lot of films I could name manage to achieve, and so I at least don't actively regret watching Damned By Dawn (and yes, of course I wrote "Dead by Dawn" repeatedly).


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