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Damned by Dawn (2009)
14th Apr 11
Young lady with tight fitting top interferes with a Banshee taking her Nana into the afterlife. Mayhem ensues.
Review Damned by Dawn opens with Claire and her boyfriend Paul heading to Claire's dad's farm where her Nana lives too, but Nana is very ill. It's been a while since Claire's been home and they've never met Paul, so it's amusing when they arrive to catch Claire's dad Bill having a piss in a bush, before consequently thrusting his had in to Paul's for a trusty, if slightly unhygienic handshake (Bill's personal hygiene is a running gag in the opening act, look out for him making tea later). Then it's a big hello to hot younger sister Jen, before we go to Nana's bedside.
Nana is not well, her make up looks like a character that's about to drop dead and come back as a zombie any minute, and she's coming out with all kind of mad stuff. Apparently the Banshee is coming for her, is going to lead her into the after life like she lead her Mother before her (and her Mother before her) and under no circumstances is anyone to disturb her.
Sure enough, Nana dies that night, and out of the foggy woods a screaming female figure appears, slowly making her way towards the house. As she enters, Claire panics, and in a desperate attempt to save Nana's soul, err, hides her in a cupboard. The Banshee takes offence, steps out on to the balcony and with the almightiest of screams raises a flock of CGI skeletal floating undead spirits from the local cemetery. Claire, Paul and the rest of the family spend the rest of the movie fighting off the Banshee and her undead minions, and there's some other stuff about a family curse and how to lift it, that Bill remembers later in the movie when they're literally driving away.
Before we pick holes in what's wrong with Damned by Dawn, let's pick it up on what it's good at. For a start, for a low budget picture of this calibre, it looks and sounds great. The woods around the farm are dark, sumptuous places filled with foggy smoke, and if you had only glanced at the screen from afar you'd be forgiven for thinking you we catching one of the earlier Evil Dead movies, that and the occasional steadicam POV shot in the woodlands that takes you right back to that old cabin. Also, the acting performances all round are fairly steady with Renee Willner's performance being stand out, although she does fall strongly in to the genre stereotype of female lead in a tight top whose breasts look great when she's running for her life, and she does a lot of running for her life in this movie. The pacing is good, the script has a few nice comedy elements to pick up the mood between the set pieces, the editing is also quite nippy and inventive and, all in all, it's no surprise this flick has gone down well on the festival circuit.
It's not without its faults, though. Occasionally there are plot leaps that make no sense, the curse breaking wrap up feels like a bit of a bodge, and there's the occasional questionable moment. Like when Claire's hiding in the cupboard with her dead Nana - okay pushing the Banshee over the banister makes sense, but why they put Nana back in her bed? Isn't she supposed to be hiding her? And Paul, considering what happens to him early on he gets around that boy. And Claire's dad Bill, how come he only ever remembers anything when he gets a bump on the head?
The biggest grumble you can throw at Damned by Dawn though is how dodgy the flying skeletal spectres are. It's fair to say the look a lot like video game spectres that wouldn't look out of place in Silent Hill. I know this a budgetary constraint, and you shouldn't come down too hard on low budget efforts for slips like this (hell, the effects on the infected in Will Smith's big budget I am Legend are terrible) but it brings down what, overall, is a cracking effort. Also, we could have seen more of a supernatural element to the banshee as opposed to her just being a girl in what you could describe as a zombie bride outfit. Okay when she walks she jump cuts, but if this had been a new Evil Dead movie like the tagline comparisons suggest, she would have glided for sure. Alright, maybe that is getting a bit picky now.
It's good fun though, and well worth seeing if you like ghostly supernatural horrors with sporadic action and gore and lots of running away. It'll be worth looking out for their next project for sure.