Review: Before Dawn / Cert: TBC / Director: Dominic Brunt / Screenplay: Mark Illis / Starring: Dominic Brunt, Joanne Mitchell, Eileen O'Brien, Nicky Evans / Release Date: TBC
Life’s full of surprises. If you’d told me six months ago that I’d one day be watching a British zombie movie directed by and starring unlucky-in-love vet Paddy from TV soap Emmerdale I’d have told you to shut the Hell up whilst simultaneously beating you about the side of the head with a rolled-up, possibly moistened, copy of the TV Times. But God - and the movie industry - works in mysterious ways and so it is that, lo and behold, I’ve just watched a British zombie movie directed by and starring Dominic Brunt. He plays unlucky-in-love vet Paddy from TV soap Emmerdale, by the way. I love this job.
Who saw this coming? Self-confessed zombie movie junkie Dominic Brunt won’t be registering too highly on the radars of most Starburst readers - yet - and certainly his usual blue rinse TV audience would be mortified to see that nice Paddy chopping his way through a zombie apocalypse. But what we have here is another extraordinarily-effective low-budget British horror movie which, against any reasonable expectation, is directed with real flair and a pounding sense of urgency and a pinpoint-sharp inherent understanding of how to depict real horror in a real, recognisable environment. And real is the keyword here; Brunt’s juddering, restless camerawork gives the action an often-uncomfortable sense of believability as, at about the midway point, events spiral rapidly out of control, leaving behind the marital domestics of the disintegrating relationship between unemployed Alex (Brunt) and his high-flying wife Meg (Mitchell). We’re right there with Alex as he watches in stunned, baffled disbelief as his normal, if difficult life, turns into a living nightmare.
This is a tiny and intimate story, the end of the world writ small in the tale of a troubled young couple who leave their kids with Meg’s Mum and head for the hills for a healing countryside weekend. But the couple can’t see beyond their own insecurities and when Meg sets off for a before-dawn country run, she’s attacked by a raging, blood-drenched creature - with disastrous consequences when she finally manages to flee back to the couple’s holiday home. Before long Alex has to deal with horrors he can’t even begin to understand or cope with and the arrival of a refugee from what’s left of the outside world only serves to make a bad situation a damn sight worse.
Before Dawn puts the fear factor back into the zombie. God knows we’re all used to the shuffling, moaning hordes which populate the dozens of here-we-go-again zombie titles grinding along out there and we’re probably all a bit bored with the reanimated undead by now. The zombies of Before Dawn are absolutely bloody terrifying; these are ferocious, snarling rage machines, drenched in gore, unstoppable - they’re wild, rabid animals. Alex’s battle with one of them in the outhouse is the stuff of nightmares. Brunt’s camera ducks and dives, leaps and swerves, a pounding soundtrack accentuating the tirelessness of the zombie which just won’t die, dragging Alex out from cover when he hides under a car, and rising up even when he’s smashed in the head by a car jack. Brunt and writer Mark Illis seem to instinctively understand how to make zombies scary again and what seems like a convenient and unlikely story twist - the suggestion that once they’ve fed the zombies ‘reset’ to their normal human state - only makes them seem even more monstrous and inhuman. The last few minutes of Before Dawn are astonishingly powerful, bleakness taken to a whole new extreme, and the end credits roll over a scene so hauntingly-poignant you’ll most likely carry it with you for weeks.
To reveal much more about Before Dawn would be to ruin a zombie movie you really must seek out as a matter of some urgency. Despite its tiny budget it’s a stunningly confident and assured piece of work characterised by a smart and economic script, compelling and naturalistic performances from the two leads and bold, stylish, edgy direction. Dominic Brunt may be best-known as unlucky-in-love vet Paddy from TV soap Emmerdale - but something tells me that, on the evidence of Before Dawn, that’s not likely to be the case for much longer.
Before Dawn will premiere at the Film4 Frightfest horror festival in London over the August Bank Holiday weekend.
Expected Rating: 5 out of 10