Sunday, October 23, 2011

Damned by Dawn (2009)

Having a wicked time with grandma

This low-budget Australian horror plays on the legend of the Banshee, combined with evil ghosts and your loved ones coming back as the living dead. The story is incredibly simplistic as this plays more so on a steady mood and the survival horror genre with characters running back and forth in the midst of spooky settings to save their lives.

A woman named Claire is visiting her family with her boyfriend Paul at her family's farm house. The place is filled with shrouding fog, naked trees, playful shadows and thunder storms on the rise. A spirit is seen roaming the forest when Paul picks up take out food but like everyone else is oblivious to the ominous signs and doesn't trust his own eyes. Her grandmother, Dawn, is on her death bed and they speak about the mysterious vase Claire was entrusted with but she doesn't make sense of it at the time; her Nana's ambiguity is the catalyst for the events and Claire has to clean up the mess due to her senility--not exactly the most effective transitional mode to perpetuate the story. Before bed there is a mysterious screaming sound coming from afar. Some of the family goes out to investigate and soon enough the piercing sounds are identified as coming from a tattered clothed woman with bleeding eyes and a supernatural aura that allows her to float--the Banshee herself. Soon enough the dead start to rise from the earth to take the family members lives one by one.

The major strength of this film is its atmosphere and settings and honestly not much else. A share of this looks to be some kind of dreamscape in that it has its own altered reality. The movie is persistent to the point where it makes it seem like an hour and twenty minute thrill ride with exaggerated jumps, scares and loud noises to jar your senses. Likewise, it doesn't have substance but it does play on surface sensations. Though the actual underlying story and character archetypes after awhile start to feel paper thin and to lose intrigue despite the constant mood--that's usually why those rides last less than twenty minutes. After a while, the situations feel more like random events in a Halloween haunted house than part of a linear storyline where the characters walk and run around not knowing which angle they're going to have a fright from or what to do for that matter themselves. Their actions are simple: run, trip, explore and when lucky shoot with a rifle. This has some breaks where the characters charge themselves and try to figure it out: some moments work well with anticipation, while others feel like they're stretching out the time with filler.

"Damned by Dawn" includes the standard survival movie template: the most capable character perseveres as those around her die until she can figure out how to stop the antagonist. Though instead of having some kind of intuition to make her someone to carry the picture with staying power like, say, "The Evil Dead," which this takes influence from, she appears to get lucky and without always getting a solid footing on the ground. The CGI monsters are about as dated looking as a '90s Playstation video game, though to its benefit are often covered up by the excessive use of fog; it's to the point where it makes the pool halls of "The Hustler" look like breathable air. Some of the other effects are effective and by contrast it makes these noticeably distracting. The dead come in a few forms: flying skeletons, grim reapers, zombies. Their mechanics are inconsistent in that they move quickly at some points and then at others, when the characters are wide open, start to creep as if they suddenly forgot that they can actually speed along. The dialogue and performances are hit and miss. In the calmer scenes they hold their own, though when some of the action picks up it's as if they're speaking from the script instead of becoming a personality in their self. Makes you wish they would have kept a few lines to themselves but then instead spoke up to fill the audience in better about some parts to its conclusion. Recommended only for someone who wants a simple supernatural horror to completely shut off their brain with and let themselves go with mood.

Rating: 4/10

Director: Brett Anstey
Link: IMDB

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