Reviewbr> "The lady of sorrows, the weeping one, she wails for the dead" - Nana
Claire has been away from the family pile for eighteen months but heads home with boyfriend Paul when she receives a strange parcel from her dying Grandmother. Something's haven't change, her Dad Bill is still down home country, younger sister Jen dreams of getting out from under the old folk, and neighbour Simmo is helping out. Oh and Grandma, who may or may not have big teeth, is still spouting off the mythology of the Banshee, a spirit that will guide her soul onward after she dies.
Nana warns Claire not to interfere in the Banshee's work, but when an unholy wailing wakes the isolated household Claire's first thought is to protect her Grandmother from the supernatural force descending on the house. Naturally one thing leads to another and the Banshee ends up impaled on a fence post. Naturally this isn't going to end well. The Banshee does a Michael Myers and disappears from view, there's a whole "the Banshee's cry can raise the dead", and pretty soon the house is under siege by supernatural forces. I put it to you, just how much damage is Claire's meddling going to do! It's a long time before morning, and vengeful spirits are on the prowl, time to hunker down and work out the Da Vinci code of Damned by Dawn.
Every so often I run across a hard to source movie I'm highly anticipating, so much disappointment right there when it comes to the dark genre. On a very few occasions I've sat down with an anticipated movie and got a whole lot more entertaining than I had been anticipating. With Damned by Dawn I not only got a lot more than I had anticipated, I also got one of the best dark genre releases of 2009. This is the movie Sam Raimi should have made rather than that Drag Me To Hell bollocks. Director Brett Anstey locks and loads on that old time horror rock and roll, transports us back to the 1980s, and throws down a devilishly good horror flick that isn't afraid to ware its influences on its sleeve. Almost from the first frame of this bad boy I was hooked and grooved on to Anstey groove train from station to station. Hell, I was trampling old folks in my rush to get a seat.
There are clear influences lancing through Damned by Dawn that determine the structure and tenor of the movie. Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series clearly informs things in exact fashion. From the trademark Raimi track cam, not over used by Director Anstey and hence fresh when laid down, through the whole possessed dead bodies sent to traumatise the survivors, to the slapstick gore used in places. The gore here is so over the top, cockroaches really? - that even while perhaps gagging you will be smiling at the elaborate Riami like efforts to festoon the halls with intestines and other body parts. Even the title, Damned by Dawn, speaks of Evil Dead 2s' "dead by dawn" refrain. Director Anstey shows his Evil Dead influences but doesn't allow them to submerge his own vision, Damned by Dawn is a worthy successor to Raimi's crowd, not a pale imitation that doesn't seek to find its own voice.
Anstey shows horror can still jive on down and entertain rather than simply try and shockThe other obvious influence is Hammer Horror, the atmosphere being created around the isolated farm house. It's almost in the realms of surreal, with a constant fog washing the exteriors and seemingly never ending twilight pervading the interiors. One half expects Peter Cushing to pull up in a hansom cab raving about the dangers of the creatures of the night. It's a dream like state, which of course is exactly what's needed to transport an Irish myth to the Australian fatal shores. In amongst the Aussie accents you half expect Christopher Lee to introduce the children of the night. Somehow Anstey has this aspect working for him, while other movies have tripped and presented almost a parody of Hammer Horror's moor settings, Anstey embraces them and uses them to give his movie a feeling of place, an atmosphere of dread, to drive the Audience to anticipation of just what might be lurking out in the mists. For the most part Anstey delivers on that anticipation with a movie that delights in its mounting tension and dread. The Director knows what makes a Hammer horror tick and isn't apologetic in utilising the good stuff.
Perhaps less obvious to a modern Audience is Anstey's debt to the ultimate showman, William Castle. Like Castle, Anstey isn't afraid to throw a slow ball at the Audience to see how they will react, in this case we're all about flying skeletons wielding scythes. Now okay clearly the whole skeleton armed with a certain bygone farm implement is evocative of previous embodiments of Death as an entity, but I'm not giving up on the Castle, circa House on Haunted Hill, referencing. I'm not even sure this element of the movie works to be honest, but heck I was having a hoot and a holler with it. And if you ever need proof that Damned by Dawn isn't taking itself overly seriously, except where the tension is being amped up, and nothing gets in the way of that, then the scene where Claire and another character are trying to get out of dodge and the air is fill of flying bones is about all the proof you need. Anstey gets his Castle on, and somehow has it working even though in the cold light of morning you are going to be wondering about this aspect.
Slight detour yo, is the house that forms the major outdoor set the same one as the one used in Next of Kin? At stages I thought it might be, but then from other angles decided it wasn't. Sorry some debate in the bunker around this point.
While there are clear references Director Anstey is also pretty much presenting his own vision of what makes a horror movie ticked, and I'm real glad he decided to do that. The Banshee is probably not the first creature to leap out of the horror pack when thinking about writing a dark genre script, which is strange given horror's pre-occupation with death and mayhem. Anstey presents an almost revenant version of the spirit, you are okay if you obey the rules, break them and literarily all hell breaks loose. Really dug the Banshee's wailing, it was eerie, and given the mist shrouded surrounds damned creepy on the atmospheric front. Okay so the skeletons weren't exactly much of an advance over previous entries, but they still brought a smile to my dial, you got to love that old time religion, and horror tropes.
Naturally since this is a modern movie we have to have some gore, okay it's not over the top and plays off not being taken seriously, sort of, there's a couple of nasty scenes coming at you. Dudes being hung by their own entrails, split open stomachs steaming with cockroaches, impalings, and tongues being pulled out, would I guess sum it up. If you wanted to be pedantic you could say Anstey goes where Raimi feared to tread. Not entirely sure the blood and guts matched the aesthetic of the rest of the movie to be honest, but guess it'll be a talking point for the gorehounds reading.
And forget about T&A because Anstey sure did, we don't even get the barely covered breasts of a Hammer epic as things are kept prime and proper. I'm not actually marking the movie down over this point as there's way too much horror relying on titillating the lowest common denominator for overall comfort. Shouldn't we be getting back to scaring the shite out of people? When was the last time you actually felt uncomfortable during a dark genre flick? - okay if anyone said Paranormal Activity 3 then I'm hearing you. So if after some soft core porn then considered the box of tissues left on the bathroom shelf.
Behind the camera Anstey has a few interest things happening, besides the ability to ladle on the atmosphere and tension. Claire searching a barn for Jen, who may have been nabbed by the Banshee, is a thing of beauty. Besides the aforementioned track cam, did I mention that? - there's some overheads that work, lots of ground upwards shoots, and thankfully a lack of kinetic shooting that has destroyed more than one horror flick. Director Anstey knows what he's about, throws on decent pacing, and gets the movie where it's going without a misstep. Strong debut here, for sure I'm looking forward to what he does next.
There's some surprises coming at you via the script. Sure it gets a bit top heavy, all about the last blood of the family, but sticks to its stated mythology without side stepping due to painting itself into a corner. Nice touch where we get to know the laws governing dealing with a Banshee via Nana's journal, that would be a good example of none intrusive plot development. There was at least one character who I didn't expect to meet an early demise, and for sure you will be behind the fight for survival. Though it has to be said the whole mess can be put at the feet of Claire, who takes decisive action to create the situation, and then spends the rest of the movie hiding in closets and generally running away. To be honest we don't get a heroic character as such, perhaps Bill, with a lot of screaming being the order of the day. Two thumbs up to the script for having a couple of characters deciding to get out of Dodge. Actually I should mention there's some light attempts at humour, mainly via Bill, but it wasn't working that well so I won't.
Guess I've pretty much covered the whole shooting match here. Oh the Actors, Renee Willner does sterling work as Claire and delivers a believable performance. And Bridget Neval just knocks them dead as the Banshee, no pun intended, was really digging her performance and lung capacity. Everyone else is delivering on the requirements with no weakest link going down.
Damned by Dawn was another of those movies I've been hanging to get a viewing of, but which seems to have done the foreign circuit before being dumped on the Aussie market without much in the way of fanfare. Distribution really needs to improve in this Country in the face of a growing import culture, I for one am certainly not waiting on the Distributers getting off their collective arses before catching up with The Walking Dead Season 2. Brett Anstey's movie was well worth the wait however, got to love a horror flick that is fill of atmosphere and which is just trying to be a scary movie without catering to the tweens or those who think they are horror fans. It's a solid piece of film making that should have you baying at the moon, full recommendation, one of the best recent Aussie horror flicks I've run across, it's a lot of fun.