11th Mar2020

‘Dead By Dawn’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Jamie Bernadette, Drew Lindsey Mitchell, Kelcey Watson, Bo Burroughs, Timothy Muskatell, Bobby Slaski, Detra Hicks, Skylar Dominique | Written by Wes Laurie | Directed by Sean Cain


Sean Cain, director of 2017s CGI monster movie Terror Birds, is back behind the camera for another monster movie of sorts, only in Dead By Dawn the monsters are all-too-human. The film tells the story of Lulu (Drew Lindsey Mitchell), a young woman who escapes an abusive relationship, only to end up in the ride-share of a creepy perv dressed as a clown! Next thing we know Lulu is banging down the door of Dylan (Kelcey Watson), a suicidal man in a remote cabin. Swearing to help, Dylan must protect Lulu from three killers and their sadistic games….

However we quickly learn that the trio of psychos outside the cabin are even more sick, twisted and dangerous than they appear. Especially the short-fused Neil (Bo Burroughs), who not only has Snack (Jamie Bernadette) in the palm of his hand – though she’s just as psychotic as he is – and but also has control over the third in the group, the smartly-dressed and less-psychotic Chad (Timothy Muskatell).

However Chad isn’t just a random member of the gang – he’s Lulu’s uncle, who has been grooming her since the death of her father (dark), eventually becoming the catalyst for all this by inviting Lulu to his Halloween party, a party where Lulu was held captive and repeatedly raped (darker). Raped so viciously in fact that we see – in the films most uncomfortable scene – Lulu struggle to even use the bathroom without screaming in pain (darker still).

Like a lot of its home invasion brethren, Dead By Dawn follows a particular pattern – what many would call the “Home Alone” formula. Killers outside are eventually lured inside to a home booby trapped by the occupiers. Unlike others of this ilk, Dead By Dawn plays things very straight – the bad guys are REALLY bad and REALLY want to kill Lulu; with Neil even going as far as sodomising Chad with a gun to keep him under control (darkest).

Dead By Dawn is certainly a far cry from the camp nature of Cain’s Terror Birds, with aspects of the story that more extreme than your average home invasion thriller too (unless you count the film I [accidentally] got banned in the UK, Hate Crime). But then actress Jamie Bernadette has a habit of appearing in films nastier than other scream queens – from Uli Lommel’s exploitative Son of Sam to the more recent I Spit On Your Grave sequel, she seemingly loves to tap into the darker recesses of horror. What she taps into here however is also a ridiculously over the top performance, over-egging a lot of her scenes – there’s a particular sequence where she dances around with a knife that, whilst reminiscent of the dancing chainsaw scene of TCM, just comes across as laughable.

But maybe that what this film needed, a laugh break. Because the rest of the film is so dark. It’s also the kind of film that makes you want a wash it’s so grimy – especially “Uncle Chad’s” behaviour, which becomes more and more depraved as the film goes on. So much so that he’s literally acting like a dog on heat, grabbing for and lusting after Lulu, at the end of the film.

Speaking of which, the end of Dead By Dawn is the films downfall. What should be a tense confrontation between killers and victim becomes overwrought as everyone in the cast throws subtlety (what subtlety there was I should say) out of the window and acts as ostentatious and over dramatic as they possibly can, ruining what should be a suspense-filled finale. Then we get the multiple endings… Though it was good to see Chad get his final, grisly, comeuppance!

Not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, Dead By Dawn just suffers from a lack of restraint come the denouement. A bit more of that and we could have had a truly superb dark home invasion thriller on our hands. As it is this is merely above average – mainly thanks to the more extreme parts of its story.

Dead By Dawn is released on DVD and Digital on April 7th, courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment.


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