Before Dawn (2012)

As a former West Yorkshire resident, it was fairly well documented in the village of Hebden Bridge (which I once called Home) that one local resident, Emmerdale‘s Dominic Brunt, was a huge fan of zombie cinema. The TV vet, both in terms of his character in the Yorkshire soap and his long term status on that show, hosts the Leeds Zombie Film Festival along with Emmerdale co-star Mark Charnock for a number of years. There were many times me and my housemate, Gareth, discussed knocking on his door with a bag of popcorn and a stack of VHS in the hopes he would welcome us in for a night of horror flicks with Paddy from Emmerdale. Although, we never really managed to pluck up the guts to do so.

For those who weren’t privy to this knowledge, a film like Before Dawn might have come directly from¬†left field. But I was waiting for Brunt to leverage his star status as perma-heartbroken vet to make his own zombie flick. Fans got a taste of Brunt’s genre allegiance with his turn in Alex Chandon‘s Inbred, but in Before Dawn we get a true glimpse into his fandom of the zombie¬†combined with the soap sensibilities he likely picked up working on Emmerdale Farm.

Before Dawn is a very low-key film with an emotional core that should cut to the heart of most people past their twenties. A tale of a couple on the brink of a complete collapse in relationship who take one last trip to try and salvage the remnants of a broken marriage. Alex is desperate to save his floundering marriage, while Meg seems to have changed from the warm loving wife that alex once knew, into someone a lot more cold. Then colder, and hungrier.

Real life husband and wife, Brunt and Joanne Mitchell, play the couple with such pathos that the melodrama feels so incredibly personalised. That could be you on screen. In either, or both, of the roles. The marital collapse feels so very real, that when the undead do come into play it is all the more terrifying.

The film is shot well, a few moments of blustering shaky-cam might cause nausea in the more squeamish of patrons, but mostly Before Dawn wears its budget well. The zombies come from the slobbering, angry school of 28 Days Later with an interesting twist that I hadn’t seen before. Although, had I not been informed of this tweak on the zombies’ character immediately prior to seeing the film by visual effects person, Neale Myers (If you want to hear that for yourself, you can get it here), then I might have gone on with my life blissfully unaware. With the budget being so slim, and the film itself being so intimate, you can forgive the use of fast moving zombies because for shambling, shabby types to be successful you have to overwhelmed by the numbers.

A few people have pointed out that the film may find it difficult to capture an audience, because those with a penchant for gory horror will get turned off by the melodramatic elements and those who dig getting sad may puke all over their velvet jacket at the sight of a zombie. I think this is mostly unfounded, the bulk of horror fans that I know are interested in film as a whole. While Before Dawn is not without problems, it does represent some excellent British filmmaking.

In a period where a lot of people are bored with the bombardment of zombies as a plot device and a badge of subcultural identity, it’s great that someone crafted a film that briefly restored my faith in the subgenre. I’m a big fan of pitching the horror genre higher than the usual hacked-to-death teens and zom-coms, Before Dawn sits well in the classy end of the pool.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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