“Chekhov’s Bobbyknocker”: Dr. Lauren & Darren Review “Dead By Dawn” (2020)

Snack (above) is not best pleased at our review…

Dr. Lauren McIntyre (above) is a horror obsessive, tattoo connoisseur, natural Goth and cat wrangler. Your mum would definitely like her but wouldn’t be sure why. Say hi to her on Twitter: @noddinggoth

Darren Gaskell (above) is a horror obsessive and “enthusiastic” karaoke performer. At a Melbourne restaurant, the waitress mistook him for a completely different Englishman who’d been there the previous evening and he couldn’t convince her otherwise. When she kept saying how hilarious he was, naturally he gave up trying to explain and shamelessly took the credit. Say hi to him on Twitter: @darren_gaskell

*** This review contains massive spoilers and strong language. It also contains discussions about certain sequences within the film which contain offensive and potentially triggering content, so we’re fine with you closing the page now rather than upsetting you in any way, which is the very last thing either of us wants to do ***

DEAD BY DAWN (2020)

Starring: Drew Lindsey Mitchell, Kelcey Watson, Jamie Bernadette

Writer: Wes Laurie (from an original idea by Sean Cain)

Director: Sean Cain

Darren: Dead By Dawn is a 2020 film in which Lulu, played by Drew Lindsey Mitchell, has a bit of a domestic with her douche of a boyfriend, gets in a taxi, gets kidnapped, then escapes to a cabin where a suicidal bloke is about to top himself but doesn’t and it all ends up in a home invasion-style nightmare.

Dr. Lauren: That about sums it up.

Darren: For openers, she gets in an Uber – well, they don’t refer to it as an Uber – but there’s a clown driving it?

[Dr. Lauren starts laughing]

Darren: Why would you get into a taxi that’s being driven by a clown? Fuck, no! There’s your money, mate. I’m just going to walk.

Dr. Lauren: Can I just say….I did not like this film. Before I say anything about it, I want to preface this entire thing by saying that if ever if I have to look at something with a critical eye, even if I don’t like whatever it is, I always look to find something good about it. I’m not comfortable with ripping things apart for no reason or just being mean about it.

Darren: Totally with you on that.

Dr, Lauren: In this particular case, there was very little I could find. Do you feel the same?

Darren: I’m probably gonna come down slightly more positive than you but overall I’m not a huge fan of this movie. We’ll get into this anyway.

[At this point Darren’s wife Alison is wandering past and has obviously caught the start of the Skype conversation – yes, Dr. Lauren and Darren are taking the Government’s advice seriously and are doing the social distancing thing]

Alison: I would not get into a taxi driven by a clown.

Dr. Lauren: She was going to a Halloween party, wasn’t she?

Darren: Yeah, but even so, as the ride gets going the driver is being really lecherous and I was wondering why she didn’t just jump out.

Dr. Lauren: I’d be “one-starring” him. I don’t want my Uber driver dressed as a clown and also touching himself.

Darren: “The drive was okay but the fact that he was playing with himself wasn’t that great”.

Dr. Lauren: Hmm. Yeah. Gross.

Darren: There’s quite a lot of unpleasant stuff in this movie, come to think of it.

Dr. Lauren: You see, I thought this movie was pretty terrible. I watched it with Steve [Dr. Lauren’s husband] and he thought the same thing as I did. My scale of films is basically from The Human Centipede 3, which is the worst film I’ve ever seen in my life, through to the original version of The Wicker Man. That is my scale of films.

Darren: So it was bothering The Human Centipede 3 end of things, then?

Dr. Lauren: It didn’t make me angry like Human Centipede 3 did but it was just not good. While we were watching it Steve said he had felt more tension in episodes of Baywatch.

[Darren very nearly spat a mouthful of tea on the laptop at this point]

Darren: Granted, it’s not that good at building tension. One thing I can say for it is that it rattles along at a decent pace. It doesn’t faff about. The running time’s reasonably short.

Dr. Lauren: That’s true. They’d obviously put a bit of money into it as well. Whatever equipment they were using – the look of it was really good. The overhead landscape shots – they were obviously using a drone – looked really nice and the sound was great but that’s about it.

Darren: I’m a bit fed up of drone shots now. I know the technology’s there and you can use it because you don’t have to get copters and cranes, which is good but everybody’s putting drone shots into their movies now. Looks lovely, the landscapes are beautiful but the cynic in me was thinking “Not another fucking drone shot”. I will say off the bat that the guy who’s holed up in the cabin doesn’t do anything stupid when the bad guys first show up. He’s not letting them in. The heroes in the film are not complete dumbarses.

Dr. Lauren: Yeah, that’s true. Having thought about this film quite a lot when I was watching it and then again at 2am when I woke up and started thinking about it again – my main problem was that every single character is completely one-note. It’s like the director said “Right, so you’re sad, you want to kill yourself ’cause your family’s dead. You do that. You do yoga and paint stuff so you’re nice. You’re Angry Guy. You’re Cowardly Man”. And then there was that mental woman. Everyone did their thing but it’s ramped up to 11 immediately so there’s nowhere for them to take it.

Darren: I have to say something about Mental Woman. She’s off the scale mental.

Dr. Lauren: I absolutely pissed myself when she was pretending to stab stuff in the woods for…

Darren: …about a minute and a half? That was pretty weird, Neil, who is Mr. Clown Man from the start of the film, is extremely angry for the entire movie.

Dr. Lauren: That’s the thing! He starts off angry but because he’s so angry at the beginning there’ s nowhere for him to take it. Oh, it’s just bad. In fact, the best person in it is the child of the guy who owns the cabin. Her performance was great.

Darren: Unfortunately she’s not in it all that much. She does leave them the legacy of her Zombie Survival Guide, which includes building any number of lethal traps.

Dr. Lauren: Oh my God! There’s that thing with all the nails knocked in it!

Darren: What the fuck’s going on there? Yeah, you’d think that was pretty cute, your kid’s thinking about a fantasy world where you’d have to survive a zombie attack then you open the book and there’s traps in there that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rambo movie. You’d be thinking “What the fuck…?”.

Dr. Lauren: I noticed then when her dad was having the inappropriately long, emotional sharing moment while he was possibly dying, he said that when his wife had the stroke or brain embolism or whatever it was, their child CARRIED HER OUT OF THE HOUSE AND THEN TRIED TO DRIVE TO THE HOSPITAL???

Darren: Then they were hit by another car.

Dr. Lauren: That kid was what, eight or nine years old? I have a niece who’s nearly eight and she would not be able to carry me out of a building.

Darren: Yeah. As a home invasion movie goes it ticks all the boxes of what you’d expect to be there and it does build up to a fairly gory scrap towards the end. Speaking of which, the kid’s parents wouldn’t get her some piece of equipment so she took a chair leg and put nails through it. Oh, this is perfectly normal.

Dr. Lauren: I absolutely pissed myself when they took that out of the box, it was hilarious. Chekhov’s mace.

[Darren bursts out laughing]

Dr. Lauren: My brother used to joke about that type of weapon in terms of real Mediaeval ones. He’d joke that they were called a bobbyknocker, so me and the husband were joking all the way through the film about waiting for Chekhov’s Bobbyknocker.

Darren: So we’ve had Chekhov’s Turtle for In The Quarry and now we’ve got Chekhov’s Bobbyknocker for Dead By Dawn.

Dr. Lauren: When you sent me the screener link and I saw it was called Dead By Dawn I immediately assumed it was a zombie film because of the obvious reference. I didn’t know if I wanted to watch another low-budget zombie film because I’m kind of done with them. When I’d actually watched the film I wished it had been a zombie film and it would have been a better film if the main character had been the little girl and the house had been attacked by zombies. She’d have implemented an attack plan, Home Alone style.

Darren: Sounds cool. I’d definitely have watched that.

Dr. Lauren: I’d rather have watched that.

Darren: I can’t disagree. I can tell, somehow, that you really didn’t have a good time.

Dr. Lauren: No.

Darren: I had a slightly better time. However, it was something that I’d forgotten about twenty minutes after I saw it so it’s good that I made a load of notes about it at the time.

Dr. Lauren: The girl who played Lulu only had one facial expression throughout the entire film which took her through all the various traumas and abuses plus a very unrealistic final girl moment where she basically just turned into a murderer.

Darren: It gets to about, what, 65 minutes in and from being a reasonably convincing gibbering wreck because, let’s face it, she’s been through an ordeal, she goes completely apeshit and starts killing everybody.

Dr. Lauren: In a situation like that, I’d like to think that if I’d incapacitated someone because I’d stabbed them in the neck and they were bleeding out, you don’t need to go back again and stab them a bunch of times. Maybe that’s just me.

Darren: It’s a strange one. Also, just to further establish the baddies’ deviant credentials, there’s a really odd bit of outdoor shagging chucked in about halfway through.

Dr. Lauren: At which point, the people in the cabin are fortifying it. They could have just left! They could have gone and nobody would have noticed. Another thing – the timescale over which the film was set was very confusing. It could have conceivably happened over the course of six hours or six weeks.

Darren: At one point someone says “We’ll wait until tonight” and I assumed it was all happening over that one particular day and night although the douche-y boyfriend turns up incredibly quickly. Could have been close by, though.

Dr. Lauren: How long had she been missing for?

Darren: It says “one week earlier” after the first bit where you see that snippet of the fight at the start. So when she’s picked up by the cab it’s one week before that. Again, though, what was happening during that week?

Dr. Lauren: Was the boyfriend concerned that she’d gone to a party and not come back? I know he’s a dick, but still…

Darren: It falls into the category where they’ve tried to make it unpleasant by including things like the fact that it’s clear the main girl’s been assaulted several times during the week and that kind of works but at the same time there’s a lot of stuff that’s inherently ridiculous as well which really undercuts it.

Dr: Lauren: It’s not even like “The Room” funny. There’s also a really weird and quite misjudged use of what appears to be a miscarriage in a toilet.

Darren: Oh, that scene is utterly disgusting. If you’re gonna do it for effect…

Dr. Lauren: There’s ways and means to use things like that in a film and that was not it. It added nothing to the film and wasn’t in any way sensitive.

Darren: That was the one point in the film where I thought “That is just revolting”. It had no other effect on me other than my feeling that it was completely unnecessary.

Dr. Lauren: There was no need for it. Yes, she’s been abused but it was definitely not needed and certainly not handled well.

Darren: Going back a little, the bad guys wander round the house and know Lulu’s in there and then tell the Cabin Guy he’s got to send her out or they’ll come in, at which point Cabin Guy says they’ve got to barricade the place. The first thing they do is go around and lock the doors and the windows. So anyone could have got in. Why are they locking the doors now? That Mental Woman was wandering around peering into the place, she could have just walked in. Then they make the house like some sort of Crystal Maze only with boards with nails in that spring up and go in your face.

Dr. Lauren: When that guy has the nails in his face you can see them bending.

Darren: That was slightly unfortunate. Conceptually, having nails in your face is quite upsetting but they shouldn’t have shown that effect in close-up.

Dr. Lauren: I think that where they had a chance to do something interesting with the special effects they just wasted it. When Snack, the Mental Woman, gets hit with the crossbow bolt and goes to pull it out, that was the one part of the the film where I thought “This is going to be really horrible” but before she even started pulling it out they cut away. If they wanted things to be gross or gory that was a wasted opportunity. And they did kind of want to do that because there’s a bit with a bloke getting his eyes stabbed out which looked okay.

Darren: It didn’t look bad but she must have been pretty accurate with that knife to take them both out. It looks pretty nasty but she’s also managed to skewer the eyeball and get it perfectly on the point of the knife and to take all of the gunky bit with it as well.

Dr. Lauren: Yeah, I don’t know…

Darren: You’re better with the medical stuff than I am. Is that at all possible?

Dr. Lauren: No, not really.

Darren: I was thinking it wasn’t.

Dr. Lauren: I don’t think you’d actually pull his eyeball out just because you’d stuck a knife in. It’d probably burst.

Darren: Exactly.

Dr. Lauren: Watching things like this, I tend to put myself in the shoes of the main character and ask myself what I’d do in a situation like that. I like to think that I would be quite practical. If you’re trying to get away from someone, I’d say just cut their Achilles tendon…

Darren: Ewww!

Dr. Lauren: They’re not going to be running after you. That’s my advice for anyone trying to get away from psychopaths.

Darren: I was going to say there at least was some sort of enthusiastic intent behind the movie but I’m not sure I can fully get behind that now having discussed it.

Dr. Lauren: You had a better time of it than I did. I’m a big fan of independent, low-budget filmmaking. I would not want to dissuade anyone from trying to make their own film. In this particular case, I don’t think it’s worked out.

Darren: I thought Drew Lindsey Mitchell was fine. Okay, the establishing scene where she’s a bit drippy was a bit overdone just to prove her boyfriend was a total shitbag.

Dr. Lauren: There was no subtlety to it. We need to show she’s in a shitty relationship and this guy’s a douchebag so let’s basically have him assault her as soon as he comes through the door.

Darren: Yeah, the guy’s pawing and grabbing at her. It’s pretty icky. Look, we know he’s not a nice guy but I don’t see the point in having him….I’m heading down a cul-de-sac I don’t really want to go. As for the film, it’s the sort of thing where the set-up promises something but never really delivers. Snack is just so over the top it’s unbelievable. They haven’t even said “Look, start off a little bit psychotic then as things start to go wrong you can really let go”, she’s just completely batshit from the first time you see her. She’s both incredibly over the top and incredibly annoying.

Dr. Lauren: Yeah.

Darren: As for her sidekick, Mr. Angry Man Neil, they throw him a little bit of something different near the end where he thinks he’s dying and he’s whining about not wanting to die and wanting to being saved…

Dr. Lauren: But how did he get out out of the house though?

Darren: That’s the thing! He’d had the shit stabbed out of him in the cabin.

Dr. Lauren: He’d been stabbed in his neck. Why had he not just bled out?

Darren: All of a sudden he’s propped up outside. I mean, if you can get that far, why didn’t you try going a bit further? He’d nearly got to the car. This is the problem. The more I’m thinking about it now, the more I’m seeing the massive holes in it.

Dr. Lauren: I’m perfectly capable of suspending disbelief while I’m watching films but here they were trying to go for something gritty and realistic but it ended up being ludicrous and not in a good way.

Darren: The early stuff was going for a queasily unpleasant feel and, fair enough, it was but it ended up just being silly,

Dr. Lauren: Most of the performances are just one-note and they’re not well directed but the actors don’t have much to work with. It was slapdash, there’s no tension and it’s not that interesting. Which I feel awful for saying.

Darren: But apart from all of that, it was brilliant.

Dr. Lauren: Yes!

Darren: Did you stick around for the extra scene just after the end credits had started?

Dr. Lauren: Yeah. When we were watching it, I said to Steve “I bet that guy is going to slap that waitress’s ass, and he did”.

Darren: Yep. Here’s this guy. Massive misogynist, total sexist pig, he’s gonna do something out of order while Lulu is having her vegan bacon sarnie and scowling at him. I thought the last line was reasonably amusing even though you could see it coming.

Dr. Lauren: It was very over the top.

Darren: So, it looks like we might both be giving this a thumbs down. I’m absolutely positive you’re going to give it a thumbs down.

[Dr. Lauren bursts out laughing]

Dr. Lauren: When you told me about giving films star ratings and you mentioned half stars I thought “Do I even want to give it half a star?”.

Darren: That’s brutal. My personal view on film ratings is that it gets one just for existing and I take it from there.

Dr. Lauren: That’s a good point. We can fully appreciate it’s not easy to make a film. You have to raise the money, there’s the organisational side of it, there’s hiring the actors, there’s physically making the movie, editing it together, putting music on….I couldn’t make a film. Hats off to anyone who makes one, even if it ends up not being that great.

Darren: Even so, once it’s out there you have to assess it critically against everything else that’s out there.

Dr. Lauren: I forgot to mention earlier that the music was terrible. At the time I was thinking it reminded me of something and it actually reminded me of the music in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.

Darren: If you’re reminded of a show which is intentionally bad that can’t be a good thing.

Dr. Lauren: It was quite synthy but it didn’t really add anything and at some points it was really loud where it didn’t need to be.

Darren: That struck me as well. The incidental music threatened to overwhelm what was on the screen. The only way it could have been even more on the nose was to have someone on the soundtrack shouting “STAB! STAB! STAB!”.

Darren: So, out of 5 – I’m almost too scared to ask this – what would you give Dead By Dawn?

Dr. Lauren: It is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. It ranks with Human Centipede 3 and the remake of The Island Of Dr. Moreau.

Darren: Brace yourself, because once we start delving into these screeners this could seem like a masterpiece.

Dr. Lauren: That’s a good point. I’ll give it 1 out of 5.

Darren. I’m going to give it 1.5 out of 5. We don’t aggregate scores but if we did that would make a massive 2.5 out of 10 which I wouldn’t say is a recommendation. Which is a shame. All the elements are there, they just didn’t work for me.

Dr. Lauren: It was not for me.

Darren: Sorry, guys. I feel bad.

Dr. Lauren: I feel mean now. I really did try hard to think about things I liked. The little girl in it was excellent. I wanted her to be in it a lot more.

Darren: My main point of contention is that they should have gone one way or the other. Have a gory, silly romp of a film or make something dark and unpleasant. This is neither.

Dr. Lauren: There are so many good home invasion movies out there that if you’re gonna do one you’ve got some stiff competition. Thinking about things like the You’re Nexts of the world.

Darren: And more recently, VFW. In terms of resources and budget they may have been limited…

Dr. Lauren: ….but that doesn’t matter. People make really good stuff on very little.

Darren: Absolutely. You can still make great movies for nothing, It’s difficult but you can. I think in terms of this film, their ambition was way more than their actual reach.

THE SCORES

Dr. Lauren – 1 / 5

Darren – 1.5 / 5

About celluloiddeej

Film fan, horror festival goer, karaoke enthusiast, cat whisperer, world traveller, complete idiot. Happy to chat with you on your podcast/whatever if you can stand the Yorkshire accent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *