“Sick of waiting for EVIL DEAD 4? Check out DAMNED BY DAWN.” It’s telling that the cover art features that rather cocksure proclamation.
Damned by Dawn pilfers from the Raimi cannon to a ludicrous degree, indeed so much so that it is almost charmingly derivative. Consisting entirely of gnarled trees, wailing undead, killer spectres and cartoon gore; it may have almost limped by with the crutch of loving ‘homage’ but collapses clumsily before the end, crippled under the weight of lofty ambitions and eye rolling hero worship.
Claire is visiting her terminally ill Grandmother in the isolated nether regions of the Australian countryside. The old crone warns of an ancient apparition that must accompany her passing and, sure enough, on the eve of her dying a banshee-like creature appears to send her off to the other side. But, like a total lemon, Claire chooses to ignore her Nana’s advice and interrupts the ritual midway, pushing the screeching dead girl off a balcony and skewering her on a hazardous metal fence. Subsequently all hell breaks loose – quite literally. The dead(ites) arise to kill the living and the living oblige like doe-eyed zombies.
The most prevalent horror here is that of bad decision making. Characters dart aimlessly from place to place, never stopping to take stock of their predicament and devise a worthwhile plan. They wander into darkened caves, follow the sound of demonic squalls and break lonesome from the group. It is as if they are following Claire’s poor example, thinking her initial folly has no connection to the ghastly situation that befalls them. By rights they are foolishly implicit in their own demise, subservient as they are to the reapers blade.
Even stranger is the way they are performed. None of the cast comes off particularly badly – Dawn Klingberg, who plays the Grandmother, is notably compelling – but their oft naturalistic delivery clashes terribly with the stylised universe. From the outset it is established that deadly ancient forces exist that will, and have, assail those that affront their rather sensitive disposition. In a world where flying corpses hunt their prey with rusty scythes it seems unusual that most of the characters are played with not a smidgen of ham or, at least, a small degree of theatrical irony. In the face of supernatural apocalypse it’s just bizarre to see people acting so bloody normal.
Not aiding matters very much is the shoddy CGI mist. The entire film is covered in it. While it may be effective at masking even poorer CGI ghoulies, it rarely achieves its obvious prerogative of ‘creating an Evil Dead atmosphere’. It is most successful in short cutaways or rapid pace montages but comes up short in when subjected to prolonged exposure; a pity considering the obvious potential of Australia’s natural landscape. Lifeless, crooked trees grasp banefully into frame and rolling hills cast off for miles, imprisoning those caught in their malefic valleys. Or at least they would if it weren’t for the digitised fog and artificial shadows that engulf them.
Whether it all works or not, there is still a lot to enjoy. The violence is delightfully silly and some scenes even muster enough suspense to grip even the most cynical of viewers. The quality, as with the pacing, is awfully inconsistent but makes you appreciate the highs so much more when preceded by the lows.
Damned by Dawn is not a bad film, it is just worse than advertised, thus enhancing the disappointment.