Cast: Dan Rickard, Chris Wandell, Samantha Bolter, Richard ‘Wilx’ Wilkinson
Running Time: 90 minutes
Lets begin with the astounding budget. £1000 supposedly went into the making of Dan Rickard’s brave feature debut, DARKEST DAY. I can safely say I’ve never watched a film made on lower than 10k and with that in mind, Rickard has successfully created a movie that goes beyond just watchable, and becomes genuinely enjoyable.
DARKEST DAY begins with a young man, Dan, on Brighton beach. Confused and with an apparent loss of memory, we watch as he embarks on a journey into the city centre. In ruins, with familiar sights smashed to pieces (courtesy of some very clever CGI), and not a soul in sight, we start to recall 28 DAYS LATER – something I will come back to. As Dan endeavors to find out whats happened, he stumbles across two survivors who take him back to their hideout. What ensues is a kind of SKINS meets horror, as the group attempt to stay undetected from the British military who are on the warpath for answers.
For the first half we watch as a group of twenty-somethings sit and drink beer, play cards and joke around like the world hasn’t gone to pot. The SKINS vibe is an interesting element to a usually formulaic genre and it provides us with several lighthearted laughs. While the acting in these establishing scenes isn’t great (and it pains me to say, at times verges on painfully bad), there is an ever-building sense of being able to relate to these student-esque characters. Beyond this, the whole set-up of this is how us Brits would behave in the event of an apocalyptic UK is one of the best themes to Rickard’s zombie-filled feature.
The film is split into two halves. We begin at the safe haven of the house, and then embark on a trip to a country house that promises stability and hopefully prolonged safety. It’s in the latter half that the military come into play, and these guys – mixed with the rage/zombie killers – are the lead antagonists. This point takes us back to my earlier comment made in regards to Danny Boyle’s genre-defining feature 28 DAYS LATER. Provocative, edgy, and genuinely terrifying, Boyle created a cinematic masterpiece and turned the average zombie on its head. Running, screaming out and filled to the brim with anger, these new monsters Boyle introduced us to were unlike any kind of undead character we had seen before. Rickard has clearly taken influence from this, and at times DARKEST DAYS feels like its sister film. Scenes of Brighton in ruin almost directly emulate its inspiration, but there is enough difference in the narrative here to remove it from being a direct copy.
The narrative has enough enigma meaning we are never sure of whats going to happen, and who’s going to turn next. It’s a genuine twist-and-turn kind of plot, and you really can’t call the ending. Chris Wilkinson, who goes by the name of Wilx, composed the score and he manages to escape soundtrack clichés by mixing heavy beats with instrumental scores to add enough heavy atmosphere when it’s needed.
The use of jutting camera work which includes the over-use of running with the device, creates a home-footage feel but without looking or seeming unprofessional. These latter components mean the poor script and even worse acting can be overlooked. Bolter and Wilx lead the cast in terms of acting ability as Kate and James. Bolter in particular stands out as a promising actress, bringing understated emotion to her role. All in all, DARKEST DAY is a satisfying watch with enough intensity – and even one or two jumps – to seal its place in the horror ranks.
Dan Rickard has proven, with a stellar crew behind him, that money doesn’t always create something of strength. Billion dollar blockbusters may rake in the profit at the box-office, but it doesn’t mean they are a feature of substance. On a budget of £1000 director Rickard has started his career with a British horror that can rival the best of the genre. Zombies? Check. Originality? Check. Production values that could rival the best? Damn near enough. DARKEST DAY may not boast the best in acting talent but it reflects the capacity young film-makers have to take a little, and turn it into a lot. A truly promising start.
[usr 4] – DARKEST DAY has its London premiere Monday 11th May at The Gate and will be available on DVD 25th May.