The Darkest Dawn, 2016.
Directed by Drew Casson.
Starring Bethan Mary Leadley, Cherry Wallis, Stuart Ashen and Drew Casson.
The story of two sisters, as Britain descends into an alien apocalypse.
In the often questionable annals of the found-footage genre, two films loom large: The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, both of which received sequels/soft reboots in 2016. The former established that the format could be effective if used correctly, and the latter arguably pushed the genre to its action-packed limits. Critics of the form cite its storytelling limitations and the overabundance of horror films that employ found footage to underwhelming effect, but Blair Witch and Cloverfield remain exemplars (or exceptions) of what can be achieved, with the [REC] series and leftfield entries like Creep or Willow Creek occasionally jolting some new life into the genre. While The Darkest Dawn can’t hold a candle to either film it does owe a lot to both and serves as a reminder that it takes more than a shaky-cam aesthetic and homemade CGI to make even a half-decent found-footage flick.
Set in contemporary England during and in the immediate aftermath of a generic alien invasion (think blocky ships, colourful explosions and brain-stealing bugs), the film follows a ragtag group of survivors as they search for a safe haven. Luckily, we get to witness all the fun and excitement firsthand courtesy of sixteen year-old Chloe’s brand-new camera. Issues of logistics (like how exactly Chloe keeps the device charged when they’re trudging through rural Britain for days) are consistently ignored so that the camera can capture semi-artfully framed scenes of forced tension between frazzled survivors and repeated messages recorded for Chloe and her sister’s mother. (I’m not entirely sure they know the difference between digital cameras and telephones, to be honest.)
The threadbare plot – a group of men commandeer the group and take them to find a relative in a military camp near Manchester – at least allows for some variety of scenery, and the ambition of the project is admirable in scenes featuring dozens of extras and complicated technical moves. However, there’s rarely a sense of genuine reality due to a tin-eared script that strives for action movie cliches but can’t quite reach even that meagre goal. Independent filmmakers often have to be creative within their means to try and get noticed so that they can be offered larger budgets and more ambitious projects, but it seems like The Darkest Dawn only ever aspired to generic drivel. Perhaps if director/co-writer Drew Casson had stayed behind the camera instead of casting himself as a romantic lead he might have had the cognisance to aim a little higher.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★