Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Review : Damned by Dawn (2009)

A girl returns to her family homestead with her boyfriend in tow, and on her first night back she inadvertently interferes with the families curse, unleashing the banshee. As a violent thunderstorm rages, she and her kin must survive the night or face eternal torment at the blood stained hands of the Banshee.

DAMNED BY DAWN is a hard film to review. It's a DTV low budget affair made by a first time director and writer, and as a horror fan I'm always up for giving a chance to up and coming artists. They deserve a break, and despite everyone and their grandad owning a digital camera these days, it still takes a great deal of work and passion to pull together a film, no matter how small the scale. Yet one thing horror fans have is passion, by the bucket load. That's why of all the genres out there you'll always find that the vast majority of truly independent films are made in our beloved genre. The reason? These kids aren't making these films solely to strike it rich, (though I'm sure like the rest of us they wouldn't say 'no' to a few quid in the bank), or make a name for themselves. Those reasons are there, sure, but the main reason I feel so many of these films get made is that these filmmakers cant damned well help themselves. Horrors in their blood. They love it with a purity and they want to be a part of its long and illustrious legacy, any which way they can. Its hard to hate on a film made by the same people you'd happily share a pint or ten with.

Indie horror is most definitely an acquired taste, and films in this bracket have to be measured on their own terms. They range from literally unwatchable to very occasionally minor masterpieces. DAMNED BY DAWN falls somewhere in between. Its got a lot going for it, and a lot going against it. Let me explain.

DAMNED is a very strange beast. Its a film of big ideas rendered ineffective by too many constraints. The story itself is pretty neat, (its not often we get a horror flick dealing with the banshee myth), yet very muddled. We get the initial set up as the grandmother on her deathbed gives us the obligatory 'creepy legend' monologue, and it seems like plain sailing, but as the story goes on you find yourself getting confused as to why exactly these events are occurring. But in a film like this that's really no great shakes, as the story takes second place to mood and atmosphere. And its here that DAMNED works its hardest.

The entire film from the opening shot until the very end is wreathed in a thick fog that covers everything. Its a nice touch and its what attracted me to this little flick in the first place. Give me a thunderstorm, crashing lightning and eerie fog and to hell with the story, acting or anything else. I'm sold, its a done deal. But that's not the case here.

The directors vision is clearly influenced a great deal by the original and legendary EVIL DEAD, going as far as stealing many camera shots and set-ups along the way, (never mind the title, a very obvious riff on EVIL DEAD 2). This isn't a bad thing in and of itself. The film is visually quite a treat. Alongside EVIL DEAD'S foggy forestry, it brings to mind Hammers early works. And I'm just fine with that. That's why its so hard to review this one. Almost every exterior shot had me smiling. I appreciated the work that was put into it, and I really understood the aesthetic behind it. I just couldn't give it my love. The reason why? The dreaded CGI. Its everywhere. At some points the fog is authentic, but many times its clearly cheap CG, and theres nothing removes me from a film quicker than shitty CG, especially when it comes to horror. Its a visually pleasing film, but there is always that disconnect. Its a shame. And its a problem I'm sure a larger budget would have minimised.

CG is also used for the ghouls on display here. Other than the Banshee herself, we get a pretty nifty selection of undead, pissed of relatives that are out for the cursed families blood, (and guts), I gotta say I was really impressed by these critters. They re more like wraiths than the usual undead lumbering zombie you see in these sort of films. They drift around ominously bearing scythes and hungry for a spot of cleaving, and hell, I dug them. Sure the CG used on these bad boys was pretty lame to, but again, the VISION was there. A shot that comes to mind has a car hurtling down a country road as hordes of these things float by overhead.  Its a really ambitious shot and I could appreciate it for what the director was trying to do.

Where they really dropped the ball was with the main protagonist herself, the banshee. This characters design was all wrong. Top to bottom. Shes less 'dreaded harbinger of doom', more ' annoying punk goth chick', and her wail, (that's right kids, banshee's wail), was on many occasions clearly a looped sound sample. Instead of the desired effect of creeping me out, it made me want to rip my ears off and flush them down the toilet. Shes the only non-CG bad guy, and I kinda wished they'd left her out altogether. As bad as the CG was, at last those ghouls look original.

DAMNED BY DAWN is a valiant attempt at filmaking by some ambitious horror fans who deserve a little credit. Its got vision, and it knows what it wants to do. It just hasn't got the budget or the wit to do it. Its not scary in the slightest, (other than those cool wraiths drifting around in the fog), but its well paced, and holds your attention. Don't rush out to see it, but if you come across it and get a chance to view it for free, give it a chance. Theres a lot of far worse DTV flicks out there.

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