I like to think I have a pretty varied taste in movies, I’m happy to give most anything a try, but I’ve never been a big fan of relationship dramas. They tend to focus on people at their worst, when they’re bitter and brittle and tough to relate to. When I watch characters being petty and vindictive I tend to wish that something would come along and shake them up, put their silly, self important grievances into sharp perspective, something bigger than themselves, something like, ooh, I don’t know, a flesh hungry undead apocalypse?
That is pretty much the focus of Before Dawn, a low budget, British zombie flick about a struggling couple’s attempt to fix their faltering marriage with a make or break trip to the countryside, a trip that’s almost immediately interrupted by the undead.
I’ve always found the best zombie films to be the ones that focus more greatly on human drama than bloody, undead carnage, and by casting himself and wife Joanne Mitchell as the fractured couple at the story’s centre, director Dominic Brunt at least makes a decent stab at creating a relatable, grounded setting for the horror elements of the story to take root. Unfortunately, as is often the case, a relationship that works offscreen totally fails to translate onscreen, Brunt and Mitchell sharing pretty much zero chemistry. Some of this is no doubt intentional, theirs is after all a marriage in crisis, but there needed to be some vital spark for me to root for them as a couple, and there simply isn’t. Neither character is particularly likeable separately either, which leaves Before Dawn in very dodgy territory, a story that revolves around the fates of characters I do not particularly care for.
If that vital human element is missing or just not up to scratch, then a zombie film needs to follow plan B by being tense and frightening or just bloody as all hell. Before Dawn stumbles in this respect too, the scenes of horror creating little in the way of tension or excitement, no matter how hard the ill fitting, pounding score tries to convince the viewer otherwise. There are a couple of commendably gruesome, well crafted practical gore effects, but not enough to make up for the lack of emotional depth or grinding tension a successful zombie flick requires.
It’s not a total disaster, far from it, there are various elements working in its favour, a fairly atmospheric location, some good make up and gore FX, an interesting twist toward the end that adds a little pitch black farce to the otherwise deathly sombre tone, but none if it really adds up to anything special.
There’s nothing fantastic about Before Dawn, or indeed anything terrible, it’s so resoundingly average and lacking in any real spark that it’s quite tough to have an opinion about at all. Neither the drama or horror elements are particularly strong, making Before Dawn tricky to really engage with on any level. One for completist zombie (or indeed Emmerdale) fanatics only, otherwise I can’t really think of a really solid reason to recommend it.
Before Dawn is out on DVD 25th February 2013.
Director: Dominic Brunt
Stars: Dominic Brunt, Joanne Mitchell, Eileen O’Brien
Runtime: 82 min