There are several reasons to be wary when you sometimes see a bit of hype for something. Sure, some great movies have been hyped to death, but more than not, some mediocre to bad ones have gotten hype as well. Take Brett Anstey's 2009 film "Damned by Dawn." I had been hearing about this one for a while now, and early word was good. This tends to happen to a lot of horror films that play in festivals. The box art even has a quote from a review that says it will settle for those waiting for "Evil Dead 4." Now, there's two things about this: 1.) There will never be an "Evil Dead 4" (sorry folks, but thems the breaks) and 2.) Anything throwing in that kind of praise is bound to disappoint. Well, now it's out, and reviews haven't been as kind. This also tends to happen to these movies once they get released. Noticing a pattern here?
Now, onto the review.
Claire (Renee Willner) is visiting her family home to say last goodbyes to her grandmother (Dawn Klingberg), who seems to be at death's door. Well, Granny warns Claire that something known as the Banshee (Bridget Nival) is coming to take her. Well, Claire doesn't buy any of this, and that turns out to be what Will Arnett's character Gob from "Arrested Development" would call "A huge mistake." Next thing you know, the Banshee comes to visit, the dead rise, and all hell breaks loose.
To be fair, "Damned by Dawn" isn't a terrible movie, especially for a first time feature length movie. The direction and cinematography aren't bad, Anstey knows how to use the cold fall landscape (and plenty of fog) to create a foreboding atmosphere of dread, and there are a few effective moments (one in particular involving cockroaches.) It's also interesting to see the movie not take the darkly comic route of "The Evil Dead" films. While those movies (or at least the first one) seem to be an influence, the box art couldn't be more wrong, as it's clear that Anstley isn't aiming to do "Evil Dead 4", as his film seems to be more influenced by the likes of old Hammer movies.
Too bad the misses end up hurting the film too much in the end. While Anstley might not be bad at directing action and atmosphere, he really misses when it comes to directing actors. None of the performances here are that good, with too many of the actors going wide eyed and mugging for the camera to be interesting, and Renee Willner in particular coming off as awkward as Claire. To be honest though, that's more of the fault of the script, which was also written by Anstley, and is the films biggest liability. It's so ridden with plot holes (so, if the Banshee can fly around and cause all kinds of havoc, why can't it crash through a window or something like that?) and poor characterization that you just can't help but shake your head.
The effects aren't up to snuff either. While I do commend the director for using something like Skeletons instead of the standard issue zombies, they (and other effects - including some of the fog) are done with some of the worst CGI I've seen in a long time. We're talking video game levels bad folks. It also doesn't help that the Banshee herself looks more likely to front a Black Metal band than strike fear into the viewers heart.
Watching this, I couldn't help but think that this would be so much better as a short movie than a feature length vehicle. As it is, I've seen much worse this year, but the end result feels like a missed opportunity.