While director/writer Drew Casson has been turning his hand to a few projects for the past few years, this series was a new one to me. The Darkest Dawn sells itself as the ‘story of two sisters, as Britain descends into an alien apocalypse’ and although there may be two sisters involved, I didn’t really feel it was specifically their story as it falls into the ‘survival of the luckiest’ category more than whether the siblings make it through.
To offer some background, we begin with Chloe (Bethan Mary Leadley) receiving a new camera for her 16th birthday and while we meet her family, we never really get to know them. Her sister Sam (Cherry Wallis) is also there and despite an early introduction to the fact she’s a nurse, I don’t think we really see them as sisters. During the early chaos, their father seems to break down into panic instantaneously whilst her Mother is happy to go to work and disappear immediately, it’s a strange opening and so I anticipated something might happen with them both later on but, sadly, it doesn’t.
There’s an important, and underdeveloped, part of Casson’s indie survival sci-fi and it’s a very simple one: Character. I can easily forgive, and be impressed, by any small films desire to ‘go big’ but without a connection to those you’re watching it’s very difficult to attach to what’s occurring. If you’re pushing an emergent story by sacrificing it for a brutal CGI visual, then you still want to hone in on the people you’re watching. The Darkest Dawn holds a decent amount of intrigue but it lacks in narrative progression and while ambitious in its desires, you do spend a lot of time just waiting for the action to kick back, hoping to be surprised or not really minding who dies.
This last point is especially true when you’re throwing in character after character at the viewer without any real conviction, and while their angst and aggression helps you to take notice, you don’t want to be shouted at randomly for the duration of any film. Also, the occasional slow pace and somewhat laborious ‘heart-to-hearts’ don’t really work because, again, there’s no connection. I believe at this level if you’re going to be ruthless then do that but don’t sit in the middle if you can’t balance it.
With independent films I always try to offer some form of constructive criticism because I also know how much work goes in this type of passion project. The Darkest Dawn was shot in 12 days and on a budget of 40k but that doesn’t excuse the lack of growth in terms of the audience being involved. They go for a Cloverfield-style approach throughout but even that monster movie, disregarding budget, takes aim at just a few people and looks to a conclusion. As a side note, and looking ahead to further Wildseed Studios-backed projects, there is hope for low budgeted indie films to get much needed help but they’ll want to be a lot cleverer if they head down the apocalyptic route like this one tries hard to do.