Directed by Dan Rickard
Starring Dan Rickard, Chris Wandell and Samantha Bolter
A man, Dan (Rickard), wakes on the beach in Brighton to find the city deserted and in ruins. He meets a young couple scavenging food. One of them is killed by marauding zombies (although as is now de rigeur, we’re not really using the Z word,) and the other leads him back to a house where a group of young survivors have gathered, including muscular, weirdly well-armed Sam (Wandell) and reserved tough girl Kate (Bolter).
Dan’s arrival coincides with the collapse of this group, as their supplies begin to run out and one of their number, Sam’s sister Adi (Adrienne Wandell), becomes infected. Sam goes on a zombie killing rampage, but when soldiers come looking for Dan, they are forced to flee both the army and the horde, heading for the last remaining place of refuge; James’s Gran’s house.
What’s wrong with it?
Darkest Day is plagued by its budgetary constraints, in particular the ultra-shaky cam which does not appear to be a stylistic choice so much as a logistical necessity, and the sound, with voices dropping out for lack of mics.
The acting quality is variable, ranging from decent to poor, with the recording constraints and stilted dialogue not doing the performers any favours.
Much of the middle of the film is just the survivors sitting around and talking, but we don’t really get to know most of them as characters beyond very broad strokes.
What’s right with it?
When he can bring himself to put the camera down, Rickard – or possibly co-director and doyen of the original BMM Simon Drake – really knows how to put together a shot. In particular, he’s a demon for bad ass group walks and long scenery takes.
Smashed up Brighton looks pretty bad ass.
The effects work is pretty decent, and the ravening horde well-balanced between ‘not scary’ and ‘more than you can believe the characters could survive.’
Parts of the survivor house scenes, while not really building up individual characters, do portray the group dynamic well. These feel almost improvised, and I wonder if allowing more improvisation might have helped escape the stiffness of some of the dialogue.
How bad is it really?
Darkest Day is definitely up towards the top end of the lowest budget bracket of zombie horror film making. The cherubic Rickard hamstrings the picture by casting himself in a role which screams out for someone haggard and drawn, and the financial restrictions really tell at points, but the film definitely has its moments.
Best bit (if such there is)?
The closing shot of the movie is a long, apparently single take of the sea front, as Dan goes into the water and disappears, and then soldiers move towards the surf and a Chinook helicopter swoops overhead. It’s one of a number of examples of the technical skill of the filmmakers when freed of the demands of their chosen genre.
What’s up with…?
- Sam’s return to the house? I’m sure we go straight from him being charged by all the zombies to just sitting at home, chillaxing.
- Dan’s infection? It’s such a non-event.
Production values – A definite mixed bag. The effects work is excellent use of budget and there are some really beautiful scenic takes, but the shaky cam gets old fast. 12
Dialogue and performances – Again, a mixed bag. Bolter, Wandell and many of the supporting cast members get the job done, but Rickard is never quite on point. 10
Plot and execution – There is, to be honest, not much plot; it’s mostly about the survivors’ miniature community and its eventual destruction. The actual plot – Dan is a non-contagious superzombie (or something) – almost feels intrusive. 11
Randomness – The Army’s variable willingness to kill Dan as opposed to capture him is odd, and Sam has a lot of actual full-tang swords for a suburban white British guy. 5
Waste of potential – I strongly suspect that the film would have been better served allowing the cast their heads to improvise more of the dialogue, but the film manages a fair bit with not much to work with. 3