10th Apr2019

‘Before Dawn’ Blu-ray Review (101 Films)

by Dan Woolstencroft

Stars: Dominic Brunt, Joanne Mitchell, Eileen O’Brien, Nicky Evans, Alex Baldacci | Written by Mark Illis, Joanne Mitchell | Directed by Dominic Brunt


There’s unlikely to be a review of Before Dawn written that doesn’t mention director and star Dominic Brunt’s Emmerdale connection. Brunt has starred as Paddy Kirk on the long running soap since 1997, and is one of the show’s most recognisable stars.

What many people perhaps do not know, is that Dominic is a huge fan of the horror genre, even going so far as to host the Leeds horror festival on an annual basis. And now, Brunt has taken the next logical step and has directed and starred in Before Dawn.

Brunt’s wife Joanne Mitchell stars alongside her husband, and was responsible for the story behind the film. She produced a detailed scene-by-scene breakdown and then enlisted the help of another Emmerdale connection, Mark Illis, to write the screenplay. The film was even edited using Emmerdale‘s editing suite, although Brunt was keen to end the connection there – he wanted this to be as much a standalone entity as possible (even going so far as enlisting the help of Colin director Marc Price as producer to leverage the former “£45 zombie movie” director’s connections and industry know-how).

Before Dawn tells the tale of Alex and Meg. In a make or break attempt at salvaging their doomed marriage, they drop their two children off with Meg’s mother, and head off for a quiet weekend in a cottage in the countryside. Initially the cottage looks like just the place to work out what’s gone wrong with their marriage, but little do they know something is going very badly wrong with the world outside, and it’s only a matter of time before it reaches them.

I’ve been describing Before Dawn to people as a film about the implosion of a relationship, set against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. The focus is very much on Alex and Meg, and their attempts at fixing what’s become so horribly broken, and the zombie infection acts as a cataylst to take their relationship to much darker places.

The film’s key success is in script, and the two incredible central performances from Brunt and Mitchell. It should come as no surprise that they make a believable on-screen couple given their real life status, but it’s the believability of them as a broken couple that makes Before Dawn what it is. Alex desperately wants to get back what they had before, and Meg actually seems pretty happy with her new life. The script cleverly reveals details of their relationship over time, even adding a new wrinkle to the tried and true zombie formula as things go from bad to worse.

Before Dawn was shot using 35mm Red cameras, and has that that distinctive digital quality to it. As a viewer with nothing against digital production, I had no complaints about how the film looks. Brunt does a fantastic job as director, influenced no doubt by Mitchell’s allusions to making an art house horror picture, and the use of overblown exposure and hunting focus only contribute to the sense that things are slipping away from Alex as time goes by. The music too is almost uniformly great, building atmosphere throughout.

Things get surprisingly gory in the film’s later stages too, with some great prosthetic effects work. The zombies themselves are extremely well done, hailing from the 28 Days Later school of fast moving, twitching, blood drooling rage beast school of zombie behaviour. Given the film’s low budget, the more athletic zombie makes sense; slow moving zombies need to be deployed in sufficient quantities to be a threat, and that just wouldn’t have worked in this context. The zombie’s spasmodic movement, almost as if their bodies won’t go where they want them to, is one of many ways Before Dawn puts its own imaginative stamp on the zombie genre.

I can’t be uniformly complementary though; I’d be being dishonest if I didn’t mention the couple of things I disliked about Before Dawn. Namely the choice of set piece zombie confrontation soundtrack and the overuse of shaky cam in the film’s first encounter. The latter can be forgiven as it’s mercifully brief, but it’s a shame that we don’t get a good look at the makeup on the first zombie. The former is less forgiveable, particularly when it manages to rob a scene that should be upsetting and poignant of the emotional weight it deserves.

These criticisms seem churlish when compared with the emotional weight of the film’s conclusion though. Before Dawn has the extremely notably accolade of being the only film capable of reducing me to tears during this year’s festival. I always maintain marriage and having children alters the things that affect you in cinema, and the films portrayal of a father in danger of losing both broke me like nothing I’ve seen in a long time.

Blu-ray Special Features:

  • Before Dawn’s journey to the big screen
  • Commentary with director Dominic Brunt
  • Making-of featurette
  • Trailer
  • Outtakes
  • Raw footage
  • Short film: Shellshocked

Before Dawn is a delight. An original, beautiful, heart-breaking British zombie movie that pulls no punches and evokes a realism and tension that belies its low budget and humble origins. The film is out now on Blu-ray from 101 Films.


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