An estranged couple’s vacation to save their troubled relationship goes awry when they find themselves under attack from the walking dead
Zombies are everywhere, friends. I don’t speak of an actual infestation, though due to the skyrocketing fame of our undead once-brethren, I have friends who not only believe an outbreak is imminent, but I suspect are looking forward to the event. Personally, given the choice, I could live without it. A few vampires kicking around would be pretty groovy, however. As for ghosts and aliens, we all know they’re already here.
The primary reason for straying off-topic (aside from the fact that I always do) is that there has been such a zombie overload in the past decade or so, I frankly find it difficult to seek out new angles in which to approach the discussion. Sadly, the moaning bastards have grown old-hat to me. This recent horror epiphany did not bode well for “Before Dawn,” a British thriller about an estranged couple weekending in the gorgeous Yorkshire countryside in an attempt to repair a stagnant marriage, blah, blah, enter zombies. Though impeccably acted (it’s essentially a two-person show for the duration) with only a minor faction of technical stumbles, “Dawn” adds no new elements to the genre that weren’t already offered by the uneven but superior “Zombie Honeymoon” in 2004.
Alex (Dominic Brunt, who also directed), currently between jobs, has a romantic getaway planned with workaholic Meg (Joanne Mitchell, author of the story) to rekindle their estranged love. Unlike the blatant exposition usually forced down our throats by these types of films in which we’re subjected to an obnoxious couple belittling one another like arch nemeses, Mitchell and Brunt show true affection in these opening scenes, a breath of fresh air for yours truly. Plus, there is so much of just them before we are even given a remote glimpse of any horrific shenanigans, it’s a relief to spend the time with two amiable characters performed by capable thespians. This doesn’t save “Dawn” by a long shot, as you’ll still find yourself checking your watch and thinking “Isn’t this supposed to be a freakin’ zombie movie?” at several intervals, but appreciated nonetheless.
After a candlelit dinner and tearful confessions over wine that end with Meg sleeping alone and Alex drinking on the couch downstairs, we are greeted the next morning with flashes of something in the forest surrounding the cottage, and the growing excitement that the proverbial show may finally be on the road. Ah, the promise of a new day. Meg goes out for an early jog whilst Alex drunkenly slumbers. On her way, she encounters a bloodied, shrieking man on the path, who begins chasing her back through the woods. After a dogged pursuit, the man (ah hell, they’re zombies, let’s just call them that) catches her and pulls her to the ground. Their struggle is so shaky-cam-tacular in the Danny Boyle “28 Days Later” mold, I could scarcely translate exactly what was going on through the misdirected jumble. From what I could gather, Alex is bitten on the leg before breaking free and escaping. A strange artistic flourish is added here, where she stops in mid-flee and takes in the gorgeous day around her for a moment before continuing on, as if a potent epiphany had struck her. Though understandable as an ironic visual interpretation of the obvious fate in store, it had me shaking my head at the cut-away regardless.
Several attempts are made to contact the authorities once she makes it back and frantically explains the attack to Alex, to no avail. The emergency response operator seems unconcerned with a possible murder attempt, hanging up on Alex as if he were a mere crank. He then calls terse mother-in-law Eileen (Eileen O’Brien), who pleads with him to return home. They are cut off by a precarious signal with Eileen asking, “Don’t you know what’s going on?” Meg soon grows progressively weaker and more ashen, the wound becoming infected despite efforts to keep it clean. Even the most subtle foreshadowing couldn’t stop us from knowing exactly where this is headed.
A few more zombie sightings on the property, and Alex decides to get the deuce out of Dodge and find Meg medical attention. This would have been anyone else’s plan right out of the gate, but better late than never, right? Wrong-o. Upon entering the garage, Alex discovers another zombie lingering there. This leads to the very best scene of the movie, an unrelenting and claustrophobic battle betwixt the two. No matter what Alex does to put the predator down, the sucker keeps getting back up, chasing him over, under and around the SUV. It is an example of sheer intensity, and bless Brunt for dialing down the Boyle a few notches in his framing of the sequence. It also serves as a lesson in Items That Will Not Effectively Kill a Zombie, as Alex seems to try everything he can get his hands on throughout.
The finale, after a heartbreaking voice mail message from home and a silly, last-ditch attempt to cure Meg of her malady, is strange and beautiful in an almost surreal way. Despite the first poorly actualized zombie attack, the main fault lies in the plodding script by Mark Illis, based upon Mitchell’s story. I understand the need to humanize this genre, as there are plenty of mindless splatter-fests to choose from already, but this is no excuse to sacrifice pace and excitement in the pursuit. Both outstanding performers, perhaps Brunt and Mitchell are better off remaining in front of the camera.
With such an immense catalogue to choose from, it’s a pointless endeavor to bother viewing any zombie film with only a few attributes to its credit, hence why so many are gumming up my Netflix queue as I type this. To add another based upon a few stray moments of inspiration, as “Before Dawn” boasts, surely must be a sign of minor insanity. Or, you’re another faithful horror buff like myself. Tough love time, friends: They’re the exact same mental state. Until next time, fellow crazies!
Before Dawn (2012)