The zombie genre has undergone quite a resurgence over the past decade, inspiring over the years regular festivals, walks and other excuses to dress up and play dead, to the point where it now also gains record breaking ratings for television series and even Twi-lite teen romantic comedies (Warm Bodies). This of course has also led to many more amateurish offerings, some produced by more cynical filmmakers lacking a love of the genre who are happy to cash-in and grab more attention than they otherwise deserve, delivering the shuffle without the substance, so it takes something unique to breathe new life into a fast decaying genre.
Alex (Dominic Brunt) and Meg (Joanne Mitchell) start the tale with their marriage already at the point of estrangement, headstrong Meg juggling her career and life with the needs of the children, Alex reduced to alcoholism and drudgery. Leaving the kids with his disapproving mother-in-law, they pack up their troubles and drive to a remote retreat in the countryside for a few days in a vain attempt to salvage what is left of their marriage.
Shortly after settling down in their rural hideaway however, screams from outside indicate that something isn’t quite right with the rest of the world. And when that something reaches their front door, Meg and Alex must find a way to cope with their own problems and unite to survive.
Taking the lead role as Alex in Before Dawn, his directorial debut, Dominic Brunt may be better known to many as loveable and long-suffering veterinaryPaddy Kirk in the TV institution that is UK soap Emmerdale. Indeed his wife, both on and offscreen, Joanne Mitchell (who came up with the storyline inspired by a domestic dispute and called on the scriptwriting duties of regular Emmerdale scribe Mark Illis to flesh out the drama) and many of the supporting cast are also recognised faces from the ITV series, but this is so much more than a soap opera with zombies.
Brunt is a self-confessed horror and comic book fan, as well as a regular face at the Leeds Zombie Festival who can also be spotted as a chainsaw-wielding mouth breather in Alex Chandon‘s shamelessly entertaining evil locals gorefest Inbred. His knowledge and enthusiasm for the genre is shown through clever, subtle touches throughout, yet at the same time he wisely chooses to eschew the temptation of many a low-budget zombie director of late by choosing not to recruit a few hundred volunteers from the aforementioned zombiefests to get a little red on them and instead simply utilises a handful of walking dead which ultimately have more impact as the film steadily escalates in blood, terror and mayhem. Indeed, this is more a case of an acutely observed drama about a decaying relationship with a zombie outbreak in the background and, as such, makes the most of the metaphors and its locations.
The first half especially is brilliantly acted, showing the couple’s flaws and their weaknesses, barbed asides peppering even the most pleasant conversation, exposing carefully nurtured resentments. This is what sets it apart from so many of its ilk, the characters are well-drawn and believable, lending more weight to the nightmare closing in around them.
The zombies themselves are more akin to the fast-moving, erratic 28 Days Later variety, with a few tweaks and twists, than the slower Romero breed, but this also reflects the rapid degeneration within as well as without. Before Dawnmay not be the first choice in a crowded market for the more hardcore zombie fan, but it’s a fresh, thoughtful and intelligent addition to the genre that richly deserves to find itself an audience.