Manchester’s Grimmfest (run by the fine folks at Grimm Up North) is steadily becoming one of the Horror Festival Heavyweights. This year saw a plethora of filmmakers, actors and writers hit Oxford Road to showcase and enjoy some the of finest contemporary features and shorts available. One of the standout movies of the festival was Dominic Brunt’s Before Dawn, which has brought a new lease of life to the zombie genre. Our reporter Colin McCracken was there to chat to Dominic along with the rest of the cast and crew.
One of the films which absolutely blew me away at this year’s Grimmfest was Dominic Brunt’s Before Dawn. Brunt has, for a long time now, worn his affection, interest and passion for the horror genre with great pride. His annual Leeds Zombie Film Festival has been gathering success and notoriety for a few years now and some feel that a foray into filmmaking was inevitable.
Before we take a look at the film itself, here is an interview which I conducted with the cast and crew of the film. Not only was I lucky enough to sit down with Dominic himself, but I was also graced with the presence of his co-star, the delightful Joanne Mitchell, the hilarious Nicky Evans (Shameless) and the charming Neal Myers.
I’m here with the cast and crew of Before Dawn, just about to go into the northern premiere of the movie. This is only the second showing in the UK and before we go in, if you could give us a brief introduction as to who you are and what your role in the movie is.
Dominic: My name’s Dominic Brunt and I play Alex in Before Dawn.
Joanne: My name’s Joanne Mitchell and I play Meg in Before Dawn.
Nicky: My name’s Nicky Evans and um.I ah! Who do I play??
(everyone collapses in laughter)
Dominic: Hahahaha, ‘cos we never mention your name in the film do we?
Nicky: I play Alex in the film!
Neil: I’m Neal Myers and I do the digital special effects in the movie and I play a zombie in the film as well.
Dominic, you’re the director of the feature and I was wondering if you were involved with the conception of the movie as well, or was the script given to you as a separate entity?
Dominic: Well, it was Jo came up with the story. It was after a row that we’..well, no not a row’..
Joanne: A friendly row.
Dominic: Yes, a friendly row that we’d had about what Jo didn’t like about zombie films and also about horror films in general, especially how she thought they were missing out on all the drama and the characterisation. Also the fact that sometimes everybody’s pulling guns out left, right and centre and there’s ropey old actors wearing army uniforms and police uniforms. So from a hypothetical film, we passed it onto someone and it became a real script and then it was shown around to a few places and we managed to get backing from it. But it all stemmed from that initial ‘row’.
Joanne: Yeah, and then we wrote the storyline, which we did together and we went through a scene by scene synopsis and handed it over to Mark Illis, who wrote the screenplay.
And so from that it grew into the feature we’re about to see?
Joanne: yes, it evolved from there.
Can you give us a little bit of a synopsis, without giving too much away, of what we can expect from Before Dawn?
Joanne: We, basically, it’s a couple who are having marital difficulties within their relationship. They both have two kids and they go away for the weekend to try and patch things up, but it then unfolds that one of them hasn’t been as honest and forthcoming as the other. It all unravels from there and she goes out for a run and something happensÃ¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½
Dominic: Ã¯Â¿Â½.and without giving too much away, itÃ¯Â¿Â½s how they deal with the disintegration of everything around them; physically, emotionally and mentally after that incident.
In terms of the zombies themselves, IÃ¯Â¿Â½d like to ask Neal, what can we expect in terms of monsters? Can we fast moving 28 Days Later type zombies, or are we expecting slow, lumbering Lucio Fulci or George A Romero zombies?
Neal: Right in between the two. They need a stimulus. They can be dormant and then suddenly a stimulus will fire them off and then they transform into 28 Days later type zombies.
And what sort of aesthetic influences did you have when you were putting them together?
Neal: I didnÃ¯Â¿Â½t do the zombie makeup personally, that was done by 2 Baldies FX, theyÃ¯Â¿Â½re a duo whoÃ¯Â¿Â½ve been together for about 25 years. They did some fabulous stuff with the teeth and makeup.
Dominic: Amazing work on the teeth.
Neal: They specially made teeth for each actor, which makes the lips look like theyÃ¯Â¿Â½re eaten away by the infection. Stunning attention to detail.
Dominic: The concept of the zombies was that the virus that has got into them has pushed whatever was inside out to make way for it. ThatÃ¯Â¿Â½s why thereÃ¯Â¿Â½s bleeding from every single orifice. StuffÃ¯Â¿Â½s just pouring out and the only thing left is their eyes, so that they can see where theyÃ¯Â¿Â½re going. TheyÃ¯Â¿Â½re basically a husk of a human being thatÃ¯Â¿Â½s run by the virus. ItÃ¯Â¿Â½s unstoppable.
You were saying in the development of the script that you wanted to have more focus on the characters and the humanistic elements.
Dominic: ThatÃ¯Â¿Â½s why I think getting Nicky involved was important. There was a lot of characterisation being done and yÃ¯Â¿Â½know, you couldnÃ¯Â¿Â½t really just get your mate in to do it. You had to get someone who was professional.
Nicky: So IÃ¯Â¿Â½m not your mate then..?
Dominic: (laughs) Yeah, but it was important to get somebody that we knew could really, really do it. Your character was more than 3 dimensions wasnÃ¯Â¿Â½t he; heÃ¯Â¿Â½s really had a massive journey.
Nicky: I think for me as well, when I looked at the part I really wanted him to have a slight edge to him. That slight serial killer sort of look, to add a little bit of tension so that you donÃ¯Â¿Â½t know where itÃ¯Â¿Â½s gonna go. But it was also important for him to have vulnerability. He needed to be humane.
Dominic: You donÃ¯Â¿Â½t know if heÃ¯Â¿Â½s a saviour or a threat when he comes in and you donÃ¯Â¿Â½t know whether to like him or not like him. ItÃ¯Â¿Â½s a real fine line which you played brilliantly.Ã¯Â¿Â½It was also three quarters of the way through the film and a lot of plot had passed over since then. It could have just dipped at that bit, but instead it actually goes flying up. It really picks up the pace at that moment and thatÃ¯Â¿Â½s all because of what Nicky did.
ThatÃ¯Â¿Â½s great, and did you have Nicky in mind when you were putting together the script?
Dominic: Yeah, I did, and I was nervous about asking him in case he said no.
Did they let you know that straight away? That they had this role pre prepared for you?
Nicky: I donÃ¯Â¿Â½t remember how long into the production stages I came. Was it like a monthÃ¯Â¿Â½s notice or something like that?
Dominic: Maybe two because we knew you were going away as well. We were worried about the dates and that.
How long did the shoot take all in all?
Dominic: Fifteen days, but many, many hours.
Neal: Yes, from 7 o clock in the morning to about 10 o clock in the evening.
Joanne: We all stayed in the house together. So it was convenient. It was tiring, but it was nice to have that sort of camaraderie between us all.
IÃ¯Â¿Â½d say so; it must have created a bit of connectivity with the location, instead of walking onto a sound stage every day.
Dominic: Yeah, we were literally getting up off the floor, having breakfast and getting stuck into filming.
If you donÃ¯Â¿Â½t mind me asking, what sort of budget were you guys working with?
Dominic: We havenÃ¯Â¿Â½t worked it out yet and also, I always feel a bit weird about that because people always say that and itÃ¯Â¿Â½s like saying Ã¯Â¿Â½How much do you earn every year?Ã¯Â¿Â½ But then again, I saw an interview about a film last year and they were asked about the budget and when they didnÃ¯Â¿Â½t say I was all Ã¯Â¿Â½Come on! I mean itÃ¯Â¿Â½s interestingÃ¯Â¿Â½. I think when itÃ¯Â¿Â½s out, IÃ¯Â¿Â½ll probably say and try and work it out. Because we got our money from two or three different sources and the post production came from somewhere else. So weÃ¯Â¿Â½re kind of beholding to people for the moment.
ThatÃ¯Â¿Â½s totally understandable. I think a lot of the time people ask that question just for up and coming filmmakers, and for people who are interested in getting into, or starting off in the industry. Really to gauge Ã¯Â¿Â½Can I actually do this? Is this something thatÃ¯Â¿Â½s completely out of my league, or is this something I can aspire to myself?Ã¯Â¿Â½
Dominic: Yeah, itÃ¯Â¿Â½s funny, I was talking to someone at work, who had directed a feature and they gave him Ã¯Â¿Â½170, 000 and he said we could have done this film for 50 and it would have looked the same. However, we had 170 so we had Winnebagos and everybody ate well.
Ã¯Â¿Â½Are you essentially saying that they spent half of the budget on sweets?
Dominic, youÃ¯Â¿Â½re involved in another fairly big release thatÃ¯Â¿Â½s out at the moment in the Horror genre, can you tell us a little about this?
Dominic: Yes! Inbred! ItÃ¯Â¿Â½s out on the 15th of October and IÃ¯Â¿Â½m so, so proud of Inbred and Alex ChandonÃ¯Â¿Â½s a dream to work with. I was just so pleased to be asked. IÃ¯Â¿Â½ve been a massive fan of Cradle of Fear and Pervirella for years and so, I was well aware of his work. When I got the phone call and I was speaking to him I was just gushing how much I was aware of his work and how I was a fan. When I went to see him I brought along my VHS copy of Cradle of Fear for him to sign.
Well, IÃ¯Â¿Â½m greatly looking forward to the DVD release of it and I just saw the new poster for it, which looks fantastic.
Dominic: ThatÃ¯Â¿Â½s my arm with the chainsaw in the poster!
Neal: And weÃ¯Â¿Â½re hoping for a number one at Christmas with Ã¯Â¿Â½Ee By GumÃ¯Â¿Â½
Just in terms of Before Dawn, where can people see it next? Obviously, itÃ¯Â¿Â½s doing the festival rounds at the moment, but are there plans for a nationwide UK / Ireland release?
Dominic: Yes, itÃ¯Â¿Â½s doing all the festivals next, so itÃ¯Â¿Â½s off to theÃ¯Â¿Â½Bram Stoker Film Festival Friday 26th October, Celluloid Screams Sunday 28th October 12.30 lunch showing in SheffieldÃ¯Â¿Â½s Showroom Cinema , Leeds International Film Festival Wednesday 7th November 9pm Hyde Park Cinema, Hebden BridgeÃ¯Â¿Â½with the Cast and Crew Thursday 15th November at Hebden Bridge Picture House, Leicester Festival of Zombie Culture Sunday 17th November at Phoenix Square Cinema.
WeÃ¯Â¿Â½ll also be going to Bruges, Japan and weÃ¯Â¿Â½ve been taken on by Metrodome in Great Britain so weÃ¯Â¿Â½ll get a limited theatrical release, which should include Ireland as well. Then about two weeks afterwards itÃ¯Â¿Â½ll get released on DVD, so weÃ¯Â¿Â½re looking at February / March of 2013.
ItÃ¯Â¿Â½s going to get an international release as well in Canada, Australia and all these places soÃ¯Â¿Â½we’veÃ¯Â¿Â½been really lucky. I mean it could have fallen on its arse very easily.
Well, I think thatÃ¯Â¿Â½s unlikely, the initial reviews have been very strong and IÃ¯Â¿Â½m really excited to go and see the movie in about half an hourÃ¯Â¿Â½s time.
Dominic: Thank you, so are we.
Nicky: Yeah, me too, I havenÃ¯Â¿Â½t seen it yet!
If people want to find out a little bit more about the movie, where can they go?
Guys, thank you so much for everything.
And what of the film itself? Well, what Before Dawn has managed to do is give a well needed dose of life and energy into a sub-genre which has been faltering somewhat of late. The tone, pace and aesthetic of the film are all marvellous. The relationship between Alex and Meg is so engrossing and believable that it draws you right in. This is very much an examination of human interaction, in which the zombie apocalypse just so happens to be occurring in the background. Ã¯Â¿Â½ItÃ¯Â¿Â½s too easy to make the Mike Leigh and Ken Loach comparisons, because they are very unique filmmakers, thankfully, so is Dominic Brunt.
The pathos which is generated by the shambling, partially alcoholic Alex is a stark contrast to the energetic and productive Meg; however, an emptiness exists in them both, cleverly accentuated by sharp, penetrating dialogue. The subtle jibes which they make at each other, even in the midst of kind gestures will ring true to anyone whose relationship has passed the point of no return. AlexÃ¯Â¿Â½s strained interactions with this mother in law are also particularly well written and delivered.
Nicky EvansÃ¯Â¿Â½ Alex is one of the finest examples of a survivalist character to appear in many years. He manages to generate both suspicion and empathy simultaneously, his appearance climaxing in a particularly effecting manner.
This is not to categorise the film as a kitchen sink drama with zombies either, for that would be an injustice. It is merely the fact that the richness and depth of the characters onscreen generates a connection that is rarely seen in genre features. A marvellous combination of astute filmmaking and deft knowledge of the horror film, Before Dawn is a film which warrants multiple viewings to allow the multitude of subtleties to sink in.
Where the film really succeeds is that it delivers on the gore front as well. The zombies are of a new ilk, one which manages to create a new strain of terror, just when we thought weÃ¯Â¿Â½d seen it all. Their stripped, shorn faces, accentuated by blood red eyes and frantic lunges become terrifying and we begin to feel as edgy as the characters within the piece. There’s a fantastic score which creates a sense of involvement which is also a credit to the overall production.
Before Dawn is a rare treat, an intelligent genre piece which has so much to offer. The performances are a testament to all involved and certainly one of the most talked about movies at Grimmfest. If there is any justice in the world, this movie will take pride of place in any discerning horror fans collection. I can only hope that this is merely the first that weÃ¯Â¿Â½ve seen of Dominic Brunt and Joanne Mitchell.
All words by Colin McCracken. This article also appears on Colin’s movie site, which you can find HERE.