When an indie film crew reassemble for a night shoot to complete the pickups on their low-budget zombie flick Dawn of the Deadly, things do not go entirely to plan. Relations between members of the group are fractious, resources are stretched, and it looks like being a long shift in the condemned office block (rigged for demolition the following morning) that the production is using as a set. But when members of the unit unwittingly witness a brutal gangland execution in the neighbouring block, the risks they face suddenly become more serious than cold coffee, arrogant actors and dodgy equipment.
The premise of Nightshooters may not be that original - it was a familiar enough trope even by the time Emilio Estevez’s fateful wrong turn flick Judgment Night (a movie Nightshooters shares some plot beats with) was released back in 1993 - but it's the inventiveness and the audacious mash-up of different genres that makes this upstart movie stand out.
Things get off to a great start with the opening movie-within-a-movie battle with a zombie gang, full of some impressively choreographed fight sequences, camera lens blood splatter and moments that hint at the dark humour to come. With the bona fides of the criminal ganglord and his merciless crew, and the life-and-death peril now facing the filmmakers both quickly established, the pace shifts up a gear.
Blending elements of the crime caper, the chase flick, gore-horror and the revenge movie, Nightshooters then moves through a series of set pieces as the thugs from the gang discover the ‘film students’ make for far tougher opponents than they had anticipated. There are brutal deaths, gallows humour and a great deal of extremely well executed Kung-fu fighting. Amidst the bloodletting and mayhem, there’s an emotional texture too. While much of the violence is played for laughs, the brutality is shown to have real and painful consequences.
For a low-budget movie there’s a large ensemble cast. Richard Sandling makes a big impression as gang leader Tarker (at times he appears to be channelling Nick Frost), while Adam McNab delivers a very effective performance as out of his depth director Marshall, who struggles to keep his spiralling panic in check as their predicament worsens. Jean-Paul Ly is pretty clearly a better martial artist than he is an actor, but he’s brilliant as the tenacious and fearless Donnie.
Marc Price’s muscular script takes the narrative through numerous unexpected turns, and in the director’s chair he ensures the momentum rarely flags whilst still giving his fight coordinators sufficient room to showcase their talents.
There are some less successful elements. The recourse to expletives in the script is so remorseless from the get-go that it dilutes the words’ impact. Less would most definitely be more in this case. The wild tonal shifts that occur unexpectedly as the story moves between action, violence, humour and emotion also risk confusing some viewers as to where the movie’s heart resides. The film’s brilliant final scene confirms that this is a psychologically literate group of filmmakers, but that sensibility can sometimes feel obscured elsewhere.
That does not detract from the fact that this is a thoroughly entertaining, accomplished and unusual Brit crime-thriller, bursting with confidence (and blood, gunplay and gruesome deaths) and not afraid to break with the conventions of each of the genres it references.
NIGHTSHOOTERS / WRITER: MARC PRICE / DIRECTOR: MARC PRICE / CAST: JEAN-PAUL LY, DOUG ALLEN, ROSANNA HOULT, NICHOLAS AARON, BEN SHAFIK / CERT: 18 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (VOD)