Directed by Brett Anstey.
Starring Renee Willner, Bridget Neval, Dawn Klinberg, Taryn Eva, Danny Alder, Mark Taylor and Peter Stratford.
In a remote country farmhouse a family interrupt the grieving rituals of a banshee, who then summons an army of the undead to unleash her fury.
Australian horror has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts over the past decade, with highlights such as zombie comedy Undead (2003) and the international box office hit Wolf Creek (2005) paving the way for a slew of genre efforts including the likes of Black Water (2007), Rogue (2007), Storm Warning (2007) and Daybreakers (2009). Of course, in such circumstances it’s inevitable that quality will soon begin to diminish, and that’s probably never been as evident as it is with writer-director Brett Anstey’s debut feature Damned by Dawn, a low-budget tale about an aggrieved banshee out for the blood of a family in a secluded country home.
After receiving a mysterious package from her dying grandmother, Claire (Renne Willner) and her boyfriend Paul (Danny Alder) travel into the misty (and I mean misty) depths of the Australian countryside to her family’s farmhouse. Here we meet Claire’s father Bill (Peter Stratford) and sister Jen (Taryn Eva), who have been caring for the terminally ill Nana (Dawn Klinberg), an elderly Irish woman so close to death’s door that she could pass for the older sister of Zelda from Terrorhawks.
Nana tells of a spirit – the “lady of sorrows” – who is set to lead her on her journey into the afterlife, a process that must not be interrupted at any costs. Sure enough the family are awoken during the night by the shrieks of the crying banshee and despite Nana’s warnings Claire intervenes, which I suppose is fair enough considering a crazy-looking lady dressed in white with bleeding eye sockets has turned up to take her poor old Nan away. However, the banshee doesn’t see it that way and in her fury she cries out to the spirits of the forest – a handful of poorly-realised floating CGI skeletons – who soon set about to punish the family for Claire’s transgression by damning them all before dawn.
The main problem I have with Damned by Dawn is the way that the film has been marketed. “Sick of waiting for Evil Dead 4?” it states, “Check out Damned by Dawn.” That’s a bit like saying “Sick of waiting for The Hobbit? Check out The Last Airbender”. Sure, they may skirt around a similar genre and Anstey is obviously influenced by Sam Raimi’s visual style, but that’s really where the comparisons end, especially in terms of quality. For a start, Damned by Dawn has very few (intentional) moments of comedy, while the film lacks any sort of protagonist worth caring about, never mind one as cool as Ash. Anstey’s debut pales in comparison to Raimi’s The Evil Dead in every possible department, and advertising it in such a way is only going to leave viewers sorely disappointed.
Perhaps I’m being a little harsh condemning the film based upon its marketing blurb, but there really isn’t all that much to recommend. If you look at Damned by Dawn for what it is – a low-budget b-movie throwback – then it delivers pretty much what you’d expect. The script and plot are second-rate, the acting ropey (of the entire cast only Eva, Stratford and Bridget Neval as the banshee are particularly convincing) and the CGI amateurish, but horror fans may still find the odd piece of enjoyment from a handful of suspenseful moments, a couple of gory death sequences and some decent make-up work. It’s below average, but fans will have no doubt sat through worse.
Damned by Dawn is released today on DVD.
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