Monday, 24 February 2020

By Day's End (2020) - Zombie Horror Film Review

By Day's End is a found footage zombie film that was directed and co-written by Michael Souder (Hunger) in his feature length directorial debut. It is always a treat to review a zombie film on this blog, after all zombie films were originally going to be the only genre of horror I reviewed here. It is also the first zombie film released in 2020 that I have seen. Found footage can be a tricky genre to get right, and here, while it plays to the strengths of the indie budget by having this be quite low key, it also falls into many of the old tropes of found footage which are best left in the past, as well as tell a zombie story that is lacking in surprises.

Carly (Lyndsey Lantz - Lore) and her girlfriend Rina (Andrea Nelson - I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu) are both currently in between jobs and have been left with no choice but to move into a motel while they look for new sources of income. In Europe a deadly virus had broken out, but the inhabitants of the motel are not really concerned about it. That is until the virus turns up on their doorstep. The infected die, but then come back to life as flesh hungry creatures, and soon all the inhabitants of the motel have been turned, all that is except for Carly, Rina, and their friend Wyatt (Joshua Keller Katz - Code Black TV series). The trio must work together in order to defend themselves against the infected, and find a way to escape the overrun motel...

By Day's End sure starts on a funny note. The found footage style used here mainly comes in two different forms. The first is a series of security cameras that are dotted around the motel. For the first two or three minutes we are shown the various camera angles, all in complete silence. So before this even properly began I was thinking I had accidentally muted the film and so was skipping ahead to see if it was muted or not. Later there appeared to be audio with the footage from these cameras, so no idea if that was a stylistic choice chosen for the beginning. The other style of filming is the more traditional hand held camera, this is brought into being because Carly has handily enough just purchased a camera, hoping to become a videographer. Initially she is filming to get some practice with using the device, later, her and others use the camera as a way to film their thoughts, and to explain their actions in the event they don't survive. It seems maybe there were other cameras also being used, as occasionally, especially inside one of the motel rooms there seemed to be multiple camera angles used.

With regards to the found footage then. Found footage zombie films have been done before, two off the top of my head being Diary of the Dead and I Am Alone. This was the first I had seen which had a story that was self contained in the one location. There are plenty of signs this is happening all across America, most the evidence for this comes from the radio the group are listening to. I was pleased to discover the legend that is Bill Oberst Jr. (3 From Hell, Dis) does the voice for one of these radio characters. Due to the gates of the motel being jammed shut it means the body count is minimal, as no one can get in or out. This also provides an excuse why there are not hordes of undead around. The found footage is sometimes put to good use, there are some strong moments towards the end when characters have one to one moments with the camera, these parts feature some of the best acting. At other points there is a reliance on very tired tropes of the genre. Both the video camera and the security cameras frequently glitch for instance which I felt there was really no need for. There is also a bit of shaky hand cam footage, but to be fair most the time characters have placed the camera down before anything happens.

The story being told is very traditional, and doesn't do much to surprise. In terms of the plot itself this is nearly the same as the German zombie film Siege of the Dead, but much less action focussed. The ideas used here are all ones that have been done to death before. Examples being someone being bitten and the others not realising that means they will soon turn into a zombie, and a pointless horror trope of a character randomly twisting their ankle. The zombie attacks do look decent though, and it was nice to see the undead could be killed by being stabbed in the chest, rather than having to have their brain destroyed. The zombies also have a little bit of cunning to them, some are able to almost speak, and are able to open doors, others are shown to play possum in order to get potential meals closer to them. Even at 74 minutes long this did feel like it dragged a bit, I felt the security camera moments created a cold clinical aspect which lost the humanity of the handheld moments.

I love zombie films, and while I had problems with this it is always good to see these types of films being made. There are not any surprises to be found here, and it would have been nice for more than one zombie to ever show up on screen at the same time, but this has a good choice of actors for the primary roles who gave a believability to their characters. This is certainly watchable, I just wish there had been more risks taken to make this be more memorable than I think it will be. By Day's End is due for release on DVD and VOD on March 17th, thanks to Breaking Glass Pictures.


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