Years after a mysterious plague has devastated the planet and turned most of humanity into blood-hungry creatures, a rogue drifter on a vengeful hunt stumbles across a band of survivors in an abandoned police station and reluctantly agrees to try to help them defend themselves and escape to the sanctuary they so desperately need.
A gruff loner of few words, with a troubled past involving family. A decked-out classic car, perfect for surviving in a low-resources, post-apocalyptic future. A group of various characters holed up in a stronghold, desperate to keep the animalistic people on the outside at bay. A dream from this group to escape to somewhere else – to a brighter future. The gruff loner comes into the picture, saving one of the stronghold’s group – thus expecting gasoline and supplies as a reward. Gruff loner helps those in the stronghold to devise an escape plan. Chaos and action ensues.
Perhaps you too love George Miller’s epic action masterpiece – The Road Warrior – as much as I do.
But that’s not the film I’m discussing here – despite the rampant similarities.
The film in question is the horror/action indie Daylight’s End – a feature film shown at the inaugural Horror Haus Film Festival in Los Angeles.
Johnny Strong is Thomas Roarke, Daylight’s End’s version of Max Rockatansky. He’s travelled the United States, from New York to Dallas, TX – ever since a virus has swept the land, turning the infected into flesh-eating monsters who can only come out at night ala I Am Legend. Sunlight sends them into a spastic and smoky death. When Roarke comes across a group of scavengers in a police car – who are subsequently attacked by a group of raping marauders – he steps up to the plate, and is then offered shelter and re-stocking. In an old Dallas police station, he meets a group of survivors – desperate to escape this urban nightmare, as hordes of the infected bombard the semi-safe house every night. And it then continues on in the same manner as described above in my synopsis of The Road Warrior.
Look, the action and effects in this film are striking – if not plain amazing, especially in light of this being an indie film with a relatively “small” budget. There are multiple shoot-outs, tense chase scenes, bloody splatterings of gun-shots into flesh, and a well-done climax. The editing and camerawork are top-notch.
The gore effects (flesh-eating, stabbings and bullet wounds) are frequent and effective. There are a few good “boo” moments and reasonably good suspense. But again, as with any film – the more we care about the people in these powder-keg situations, the more the suspense works. Here, the tension works on a base level, because it’s technically well done, not because we know and love these personalities. Imagine the heightened levels of tension for your audience if we actually cared!
The locations used by the production team are impressive. The majority of the film was shot at the Dallas Municipal Building. All of these amazing locations lend a definite sense of authenticity and the hotel which is the spot for the film’s climax – is an easy highlight of Daylight’s End.
With all of that earned and deserved praise, we come to the heart of the problem. Your film looks amazing, but when your audience doesn’t care a lick about your characters and when you rely so heavily on clichés (prepare yourself for some schmaltz), all of the kick-ass visuals and knife fights can’t save your film from an average score.
The phrase, “style over substance” is something I can’t help but employ here.
There’s no character development. There’s no one at the film’s center that we are rooting for. To again make the comparison to Mel Gibson’s iconic character in the original Mad Max trilogy – Johnny Strong’s Roarke is offered a tiny bit of history (again – very akin to Max’s reason for continuing on – vengeance), but Strong (although handsome and buff) doesn’t have the “it” factor and the genuine charisma of a young Mel Gibson. Even in a film like The Road Warrior, Gibson had moments of goofiness and humor. And despite Max’s “strong, silent type”, we care and we like him. Not the case with Strong; who is simply robotic. And the one moment where his past is discussed, didn’t work. Unless he’s shooting or fighting or flexing, he’s not convincing or interesting.
As for other actors, not much to tout. Chelsea Edmundson as Sam – the female lead – isn’t bad per se, but like Strong, her character’s one-dimensional and so many of the quieter “getting to know you” expository scenes, are uninspired and clunky.
Genre film veteran Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Pumpkinhead) turns in a supporting performance as Frank Hill – a former police chief and now leader of his band of survivors in this violent new world. As always, this gifted actor brings his A-game – regardless of the wispy characterizations and dialogue he may be provided. I got a massive thrill out of him kicking butt in the many gun-fights. What can I say, having Henriksen in your film gives your production some automatic cache.
Daylight’s End is The Road Warrior (if not the entire original Mad Max trilogy) with a 28 Days Later sub-plot. It’s not original. It’s not inventive, but it does impress with pretty much all of its technical pieces. But snappy editing, epic shoot-out battles, gorgeous locations and scary monsters can’t overcome a subpar script – rife with clichés and stereotypes. And with no character development to speak of – are we expecting to care at all or for this to be a memorable piece?
Bottom line – it looks good, but it’s not good. I for one like some engaging substance with my sleek style. It could have been a winner with a better script – which in turn gives decent actors a better shot at succeeding in their job. Bad script; bad dialogue equals lackluster performances.
Daylight’s End won Best Feature film at this year’s inaugural Horror Haus Film Festival in Los Angeles. It was also nominated for Best Actor (Strong), Best Actress (Edmundson), Best Supporting Actor (Louis Mandylor), Best Supporting Actor (Hakeem Kae-Kazeem), Best Director (Kaufman), Best Cinematography, Best Digital FX, Best Makeup FX, Best Sound Design, Best Editing and Best Score.
The film is now available on DVD/VOD. Obviously it’s up to you – my avid readers of 2 – if you’ll take a chance on Daylight’s End. As for me, it’s a fun ride full of spectacle and action. But with no heart, it’s ultimately pointless.