Before Dawn (2012)

Nowhere left to run...
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Before Dawn - Nowhere Left to Run...

Before Dawn tells the story of an estranged couple Meg (Joanne Mitchell) and Alex (Dominic Brunt) who go to the countryside in order to try and salvage their relationship. They leave the kids with Meg's mum and head off for their weekend, unbeknown to them however, a zombie outbreak is already beginning.

I was lucky enough to see director Dominic Brunt, speak about this at the Manchester Monsterpalooza, well before its release. It was immediately evident that he was hugely passionate about the film and the clips we got to see that day made me eager to see it. Finally, I got to, and I'm glad to say the film did not disappoint my expectations, though it did surprise me.

The first thing that struck me about the movie was how quickly I felt I knew the two main characters, they felt like real people immediately. Within minutes of the film starting, the tension between the couple is almost unbearable; but not in a bad way. Its in the way that its hard to be inside a personal moment that doesn’t include you, but there you are anyway. Most likely, everyone has had that experience of being present during a couple's argument and felt the social discomfort that comes with it. The almost voyeuristic way that we want to watch what happens, but want to not be there at the same time. That is the position that this film puts you in from the start, in fact, the whole film has a voyeuristic edge to it; shots of normal items like a wineglass, phone or window are shown to us as if we are some disembodied spirit loitering around these two people and following them into a darker place than even they realise. Through the awkward silences, brief connections and occasional comments that should have remained unspoken, I, as the viewer, felt a real sense of intrusion at times, but at the same time was so engrossed in learning more, I could not look away.

The dialogue also feels very real, always giving us just enough information at just the right times so we learn what we need to, only as and when its most useful or effective to us. It never feels forced or unnecessary and creates people who seem very familiar. Now, on to the horror element.

The first third of the movie is relatively horror free. It focuses on the couple, their relationship and making sure we get a good look at these people. Despite this, the film never feels slow, it feels like a steady journey to get somewhere, not like time being filled for the sake of it. It makes us think we know them, makes us think we know exactly who they are, but we don’t. After the first third, things start to change. As the horror begins to seep into their idyllic paradise, we see changes and sides to these characters we may not have expected.

The zombies, when they initially burst on screen and remind you fully that this is a horror film, are truly monstrous. Bleeding, screaming, biting, pale and horrific and despite being very low in number at the start of things, they are scary and threatening enough to create more tension in a one zombie chasing one human scene, than many Hollywood films could create with an army of them. They could be seen as a true (and working) combination of Romero's slow creepy zombies from NOTLD, and the frenzied Rage infected zombies from 28 Days Later.

After this initial attack, the obvious horror slips into the back-seat again, sitting there as if to say "You know I'm here now, you know I'll be back, but you don’t know when." so we briefly go back to watching these peoples lives go from uncomfortable to unnerving. The film then takes us further, on to terrifying, through a scene I will refer to as the garage chase scene. Is it possible to have a full force, tense, action packed and blood drenched chase scene inside a tiny garage? Dominic Brunt's clear and correct answer is yes, and he really shows us how. This is where the horror jumps back in the front and stamps on the pedal (and zombie heads). This is where the gore steps up, the threat steps up and, in my opinion, its the scene that represents a character defining and also character changing moment for Alex.

As always, I seek not to spoil anything for anyone so I will keep the details suitably vague, but from this point in the film the horror pretty much keeps going right to the end, and not always in places or directions we would expect.

On going into this film I expected a horror movie with a human interest setting, but what I emerged from at the end was a human interest story with a horror setting. This is a story about real people, grown ups in a bad situation, then zombies come along. Its not generic teens in the woods, its not ex-CIA guy beats zombie apocalypse, this is you or me or anyone in the street at that moment when horror suddenly and without knocking, bursts into our lives. In many ways this film shares more spiritual similarities to movies like Straw Dogs or The Last House on the Left than it does to most zombie films, and in a time so flooded with zombie movies, this was a brave and, in my opinion, highly successful move by all involved. It's a very British movie in both the setting and character development. No attempt is made to make things seem overly glamorous or to give the characters a hollywood hero type edge, and this makes the film feel honest and real and when thought about, all the more scary.

The film may divide viewers, some may find there is too much time spent on the relationship, some may feel there is not enough horror, but in fairness, there are enough films out there that would cater to either of those mindsets adequately. What is lacking in the cinemas and home screens a lot of the time is good stories, well told. This is a good story, and its very well told. Take a chance, look beyond the obvious and embrace the implied and get sucked firmly into this horror/drama.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for big explosions, a flawless hero and legions of the undead, then by all means go and watch World War Z, that's where those things live, and that's fine. If, however, you want a more intimate, thought provoking "could happen to anyone of us" type horror movie, that raises questions about the human condition, human mind set, the limits of the human morality and throws some pretty vicious zombies, plenty of the red stuff (and even a couple of laughs early on) at you, then Before Dawn is a great choice to get a fresh perspective on a well used genre.
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