Dead By Dawn…
Opening on a zen yoga scene, these quiet moments will be the last peaceful ones experienced in Dead By Dawn. Although set in modern day L.A., Dead By Dawn is a throwback to 70’s rape/revenge films and it even comes with the ever popular cabin in the woods.
Lulu (Drew Lindsay Mitchell) is the yogi in question and when her boyfriend arrives home, it is immediately clear that this is a woman who has been domineered by men her whole life. A sweet soul, she is unprepared to deal with the creepy clown (literally) who picks her up to drive her to a Halloween party. Utilizing a car service on Halloween, initially, it doesn’t seem strange that the driver is dressed like a clown, but when the conversation turns lascivious, Lulu is a woman trapped in a car with a strange man and it all goes downhill from here.
Days later, Lulu shows up on the doorstep of Dylan (Kelcey Watson), a suicidal man living alone in his isolated cabin. Through a flashback, we learn that Dylan once had a happy life with his wife and daughter, but he is now a man who has whiskey for breakfast. When Lulu shows up battered and beaten, Dylan’s fatherly instincts immediately kick in, but when he refuses to help two men who claim to be stranded motorists, he has unwittingly placed himself right in the middle of a truly dark situation.
Neil, Snack and Chad are a trio of sexual sadists who kidnapped Lulu and held her captive for days and they want her back. Just like The Last House on the Left, this group of sadists has a female member and she just may be the most wicked of the bunch. Snack (Jamie Bernadette) is Neil’s girlfriend, she is deathly loyal and she is most certainly not to be trifled with. Neil (Bo Burroughs) is the leader and a real loose cannon. He and Snack get off on violence in a way that Chad was unprepared for. Having met in prison, Chad hired Neil and Snack to kidnap Lulu and he thought it was going to be “like a double date”. Sure, Chad. A double date that includes rape. Sounds romantic.
As all of this mishegas unfolds, Dylan remembers that his daughter was super into the idea of a zombie apocalypse and she made a preparedness kit. Cue the montage of Dylan and Lulu setting up traps while the three sadists engage in ridiculous arguments out in the woods. When night falls, Neil, Snack and Chad will face the myriad booby traps that have been set and it’s all so very LHOTL that you just have to smile.
Does smiling seem weird during a rape/revenge film? Perhaps. But this is where director Sean Cain and writer Wes Laurie really show off what they have accomplished with Dead By Dawn. Utilizing Chad as a sort of comic relief keeps things from getting ultra dark, but Lulu’s story is never treated as pure exploitation. In fact, there is an undercurrent of feminism to the whole film. While Watson and Burroughs are the real acting standouts, it’s Bernadette who gets the best line in the entire film when she screams, “I can take it, I birthed two kids. NOW STOP BEING A SNIVELING DICK, CHAD, AND GROW YOURSELF A PUSSY!” Seriously, I rewound that a few times because it’s gold.
We meet Lulu as a meek woman who allows men to walk all over her, but Dylan helps her find her female power that was always there. Dylan’s daughter was a fierce, intelligent girl and he sees that same strength in Lulu. Some people will bemoan the fact that it took a man to help Lulu find her voice, but this is a rape/revenge movie and it isn’t going to pass the Bechdel test and you knew that going in, so let’s focus on all of the positives. Dead By Dawn travels familiar territory, but it does it with it’s own modern style and it does it well.
Available on Digital and DVD, April 7.
Images: Uncork’d Entertainment