It’s hard not to come into Dominic Brunt’s Before Dawn without a degree of cynicism.
Even if you don’t instantly jerk your knee and turn your nose up, prematurely deciding that the Emmerdale star’s directorial debut is bound to be a massive gimmick (and you definitely shouldn’t, due to the Leeds Zombie Film Festival he runs alongside Emmerdale‘s Mark Charnock, and his heavily made-up appearance in Alex Chandon’s Inbred) expectations aren’t high, simply because the arithmetic of creativity doesn’t exactly shine on the humble zombie movie nearly half a century on from Night Of The Living Dead.
Zombie fans who make zombie movies typically churn out either a wrecking-ball genre deconstruction that makes Zombieland look as nuanced as Antichrist, a lovingly on-the-nose homage to their favourite directors, or a gormlessly boneheaded slapstick gore film. Or a combination of some or all of these tired tropes, destined for cover quotes about “buckets of gore!!!” from magazines you’ve never heard of.
Before Dawn is none of these things, and for the first 30 minutes you don’t see a sniff of the undead. Instead the human element is called on to provide the tension and suspense as Alex (Brunt) and his wife Meg (Joanne Mitchell) retreat to an isolated Yorkshire Dales cottage to try and rebuild their struggling marriage.
The claustrophobic camera work drawing you in to a world of awkward silences, loaded questions and sharp intakes of breath so that when the first screeching, scrabbling 28 Days Later-style rabies zombie makes his appearance, it feels as shocking an escalation as the first torrent of gore in The Shining. In short, you couldn’t be further away from the sort of tired end-of-the-pier comedy/horror detritus that the zombie movie has largely degenerated into as gracelessly as its protagonists own rotting meat.
Obviously micro-budget, with Colin director Marc Price on hand as executive producer to ensure that as much impact as possible is eked from the meagre resources, Before Dawn narrows its focus even further as Meg is bitten and Alex’s growing desperation to keep her in his life takes him to the brink, involving an creepily intense turn from Shameless and Emmerdale veteran Nicky Evans. Evans dominates his short time on screen with a sort of furtive, animalistic presence – you can almost smell the tobacco and sweat in his performance as he invades the couple’s personal space, a crude reminder that the world outside has changed.
An exhausting and invasive mixture of kitchen sink drama and black blood end times futility, Before Dawn might not be the first emotionally literate zombie movie, but it’s an increasingly important reminder that horror is all about making you feel something ugly inside, not just about making you jeer at ‘awesome kills’ or topless cheerleaders.