Financial problems have forced Carly (Lindsey Lantz) and girlfriend Rina (Andrea Nelson) to move into a rundown motel. This has put a huge strain on their relationship and Rina, having lost her job as an attorney, is also fighting a battle with depression.
Having dropped out of med school, Carly has invested the little money she had in a camera in order to pursue her new career as a videographer. This comes in quite handy as they’re soon caught up in the middle of a pandemic which is a turning those around them into flesh-eating maniacs and, as is the case when folk start turning into the flesh-hungry undead, there’s always room for someone documenting the situation.
Aided by friend, neighbour and exposition provider Wyatt (Joshua Keller Katz), can Carly and Rina survive the outbreak and stay together against the odds? And will there be enough spare batteries to capture all of the footage necessary to get to the end credits?
Even though By Day’s End opens with a familiar montage of cam footage from various sources around the motel, the initial set-up is promising. It’s pleasing to see a same sex couple as the focus of the story and their early scenes together hint at a substantial side of human drama to sit alongside the horror main course.
Early on, we’re given brief glimpses of the folk who inhabit the motel complex, including a guy who’s very much into his barbeque and the doomed Miguel, who has come down with a dose of something that not only makes him look at death’s door but also makes him very shouty indeed when Carly attempts to give him the benefit of her medical expertise. Safe to say that it’s not long before Miguel is snarling, attempting to gnaw on the throats of others and trying to break down the door to Carly and Rina’s room where a distressed Gloria has also holed up.
Did I say Gloria’s been bitten? Oh dear. You know what comes next, I know what comes next and so does Wyatt. He’s been keeping up with radio and television news reports and he’s obviously seen a few zombie movies in his time so his take on Gloria’s plight is “She’ll be infected within the hour”. Carly and Rina aren’t so sure and want to take care of Gloria, but how is that going to go?
To be fair, there are various moral and personal dilemmas thrown into the mix along the way but most of the dramatic momentum is taken out of the enterprise by the sluggish pace of the piece. Potentially interesting subplots such as Rina’s issues with her body image – she stares at herself in the mirror and declares herself to be “disgusting” – aren’t given the requisite amount of time and space to breathe and the plot seems to be at odds with itself as to whether it should go down the character study or zombie action. It ends up trying to do both and doesn’t really succeed at either.
Even though By Day’s End clocks in at just a smidge over 73 minutes, it feels every minute of that length and more besides, The story isn’t eventful enough to build a great deal in terms of suspense and matters aren’t helped by the fact that there doesn’t feel any much in the way of chaos happening in the area around the motel.
Sure, there’s a plot turn which means the gates to the motel are locked, trapping the residents inside, but apart from a few broadcasts alluding to the scale of the infection there’s not much in the way of zombie confrontation apart from a few sporadic face-offs which vary in terms of effectiveness. Mr Barbeque from the opening minutes goes from burger to human leg in a scene that, although conceptually upsetting, doesn’t work on the screen. However, the later and more desperate clashes with the blighted hit the mark a little better.
There’s a point at which the camera is picked up by one of the zombies and takes it on a tour of the place, which is quite fun and hints at the film trying something a little different but it’s not long before it’s back in the hands of someone who’s pointing it at the right things to film.
This is also where the piece chimes with my own particular bugbear regarding found footage films, which is people capturing the action perfectly even at the most stressful moments. No, I don’t want to see the sky and the walls whenever someone is attempting to flee a drooling, bloodied assailant but there’s also a part of me which thinks “The last thing I would be trying to do is get this zombie in the frame”.
That there’s so much in By Day’s End that could have lifted the film but ultimately ends up sinking it is unbelievably frustrating. Carly and Rina are a realistic, likeable couple and Lindsey Lantz’s performance was strong enough to drag me along to the end but the big dramatic moments are badly let down both by the deadening pace and some derivative grabs from Day Of The Dead (in terms of arm trauma) and The Blair Witch Project, the latter coming as Carly delivers a to-camera monologue in which she apologises to her mum.
As a fan of micro-budget movies, I’m sad to report that I didn’t enjoy this one very much. I was waiting for it to head down its own quirky and original little path which, unfortunately, it never did. There’s not enough in terms of either undead scraps or emotional beats and the lack of momentum in the tale robs By Day’s End of any energy it might have had.