Claire (Renee Willner) takes boyfriend Paul (Danny Alder) to meet her family in their rural farmhouse home. They first spy her dad Bill (Peter Stratford) pissing in a field. Unapologetic, he casually welcomes them into his remote abode.
Inside the house, Paul soaks up the increasing weirdness as he meets Claire's frisky younger sister Jen (Taryn Eva), her beau Simmo (Mark Taylor) and the ailing, bedridden Nana (Dawn Klingberg).
We later discover that Nana is the one who has summoned Claire back home after an 18-month absence. The reason is that the dying elderly believes that a mythical figure known as the Banshee (Bridget Neval) comes when it's your time to leave this mortal coil, and claims your soul. She warns Claire to ensure the rest of the family do not interfere with what must take its course, and entrusts her with the fact that - when the time comes - Nana's soul will be led to the Kingdom of the Dead without bother.
After having established that a pile of rocks nearby signifies the ancient burial grounds of strangers, a violent storm brings us to Paul and Claire's first evening in the house. Claire is awoken in the dead of night by a screaming noise seeming to originate from the woods outside. She wakes Paul, and the pair gets up to investigate.
The whole household having been woken up by now, the guys go searching for the origins of the unsettling screeches while Jen and Claire stay indoors to look after Nana. But when the Banshee finally comes for the old girl, Claire can't help but intervene ... and the female creature winds up being impaled on the family home's fence.
Oops. That's enough to fuck the law of nature up completely, and the dead rise from the nearby rocks without delay ...
From a childhood obsession with horror films formed by a television viewing of TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, director Brett Anstey forged himself a legacy of short 8mm genre films before making this, his feature debut, in 2009.
DAMNED BY DAWN is a lot more credible than its naff title suggests. It's stylish, often witty without being too goofy - a knack that Australian cinema such as this is generally has down pat - and often looks ravishing. Which is surprising, given the ultra low-budget and digital origins.
Following the J-Horror similarities of the Banshee's introduction to the screen, there is a definite feel of THE EVIL DEAD to proceedings in terms of the ensuing story and pacing, while the extremely stylised visuals (everything ran through filters to escape that cheap digital look) may not be to all tastes. But when the action heats up and the dead rise, DAMNED BY DAWN wins points for sheer energy and imagination.
Even though it tries too hard to be scary, and never quite manages it, this is a decent debut offering which suggests a lot more good things to come in the future from the clearly talented Anstey. Only ropy CGI and a silly ending spoil events.
The film is presented uncut in anamorphic widescreen and benefits from a very strong, clean and natural-looking transfer. The deliberately dreamlike photography of the earlier scenes and muted colour schemes work well together, while blacks are solid enough to ensure the later night sequences play without problem.
English 5.1 audio is provided in a well-balanced, often stirring mix. Optional English subtitles are also on hand.
A static main menu page leads into a static scene-selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.
Extras begin with a good audio commentary track from principal crew members.
Anstey chairs the jovial and mostly illuminating commentary track along with fellow co-producers Luke Gibson and Dave Redman, production designer David Jackson and Dan Maxwell, who acted on location in several capacities (including that of stunt double). Together they giggle their way through discussing the technical gimmickry of many scenes, their reflections on filming in the Victoria locations and even delving in to the mythology of the Banshee.
It's a good chat track, light in tone but rife with interesting titbits of information.
Next up is an extremely worthy 55-minute Making Of featurette. This is slick, well-edited and covers all aspects of the film's production. The behind-the-scenes footage is insightful, the onscreen asides carry weight and overall this is a superb pry into the world of low budget filmmaking. Also, of particular enjoyment were the glimpses of Anstey's early short films - very much in the same vein as the early works of Jim Van Beber ...
Finally we get the film's original trailer, which runs at a breathless 2-and-a-half minutes.
Momentum's disc defaults to open with trailers for SKYLINE, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST.
DAMNED BY DAWN is better than either its title or cover art suggest. It's worth checking out, and comes on a very nice disc courtesy of Momentum Pictures.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Momentum Pictures Home Ent|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|