Damned by Dawn
It is getting increasingly difficult to tell if humor found in a horror flick is intentional. Now that Comedy-Horror is a recognized blended genre dark humor has become par for the course. When I noticed the production company behind the latest horror movie up to review, "Damned by Dawn’ was the product of the Amazing Krypto Bros production company I thought that this might be a new incarnation of something akin to the ‘Scream’ flick. If the film makers stuck to that tact things might have worked out better but what comes across here is as film with an identity conflict disorder. The internal struggle for a clear identity appears more definable by the DSM-IV than the MPAA. There is more than enough intentional black comedy present but frequently conflict or at least interferes with maintaining a suitable spooky mood required to manifest a suitable atmosphere of impending doom and terror. This is another case where the film is not completely bad; there are several redeeming qualities, but by straddling the fence between straight horror and one with tongue planted firm in check holds the movie back preventing it from approaching its potential. I can’t say for certain but if pressed I would hazard a guess that the film maker is young. That is not intended as a derogatory comment; just the opposite. Young film makers in the independent movie world are supposed to play with their technique and presentation. This is the perfect time in their careers for experimentation. As with an experiment not everything will work out properly but with the budding auteur learns from the experience it will show in his following work. I felt there was sufficient potential demonstrated here to warrant watching this film maker over the course of his next couple of flicks. If you over look some of the vacillation between sub-genres and focus on the straight forward horror elements the story telling comes across rather well. Enough of the component parts of the movie are novel, at least permitting a refreshing variation of the overused staples of the genre; blood, guts, torture and gratuitous nudity. While these plot devices due make appearances it is not done in lieu of an actual story.
Brett Anstey receives the credit for story, screenplay and direction and is promising in each of those respective fields. The story tries its best to generate appropriate gravitas but comes across a bit more humorously than it should. One reason for this is attributable to the obviously shoestring budget but other Indy film makers have done more with less. It seems that Anstey’s heart was in the right place putting the story above the visceral effects but unfortunately this is contrary to current expectations in the genre. He does have a natural knack for the fundamentals of horror films. Rather than trying to use these well established plot devices he tries to remold them to fit his own designs. One example of this is the most basic requirement of horror; trap the potential victims in an isolated location that serves the dual purpose of isolating the people from prospective assistance and introduce the source of the terrible danger. Typical this is accomplished with a deserted mansion or dark and dank woodland. Anstey employs something close to home; his home that is; the huge Australian outback. A very good friend of mine hails from there and assures me it is difficult for an American to fully comprehend the isolation and sheer distance that make up this region. Basically there is more deserted land than comprises the continental United States. It is also an ancient land populated for a long time before the advent of European settlers. It also makes for a location shrouded in ancient superstitions and folk lore perfect for adding the supernatural component to the mix. Although far away on another hemisphere there is an oddly familiar feel to the setting as if a gothic moor had been transplanted, eerie mist and all.
Anstey has begun to master the horror film setup with a quickly paced, staccato style that introduces the characters while immediately placing the audience off balance. The very first shot is a jump cut that serves to grab your attention. Claire O'Neill (Renee Willner) and her boyfriend Paul (Danny Alder) o are traveling through the desolate country side to return to her childhood home. Her father Bill (Peter Stratford) had just informed Claire that her Grandmother is very ill and not expected to last much longer. Also in attendance is the younger sister, Jen (Taryn Eva), an exuberant girl different from the more grounded Claire. The family farm is not as isolated as we initially think since they decided to go into town for some Pizza. I grew up in Brooklyn where Pizza parlors where all over; I didn’t realize the proliferated to the Australian outback. Before getting down to the creature feature there is ample time to develop a social dynamic. Paul is put off by the rural nature of Bill from squeezing out a teabag with his fingers to the use of steel spring traps to control the fox population. Jen envies her sister for getting out of their small home set in the middle of a television black hole. Jen wants to make a life for herself away from there like Claire did. Granny is certain that when she dies a banshee will come for her. Most cultures have an apparition similar to this sonic terror but they must have bad agents since it is rare that they find their way into the movies.
Although the story looses coherency within the second act it does remain an atmospheric piece though the end. The cinematography by Reg Spoon is exceptional especially in keeping the mood suitably Gothic in nature. For a modern movie it was refreshing to see a horror flick attempt to tell a good old fashion campfire ghost story instead of faulting to the boobs and blood torture training movies that have taken over this kind of film. While not there yet I have ever hoop to watch Anstey’s career flourish with his next projects.