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RATED Not Rated
STUDIO Pop Twist
RUNNING TIME 106 Minutes
• “Just the Next Chapter” Music Video
Not even the end of the world can stop teens from having long pointless arguments.
Catherine Wrigglesworth, Emily Forster, Justine Rodgers
The world has been devastated by a virus that has decimated the adult population, leaving small children and teenagers to roam the scarred landscape. Sisters Evie and Fran have been traveling from town to town, gathering food and finding accommodation as they move from place to place. Finding overnight shelter in a derelict building, the sisters soon settle down only to be awoken by shouts from another room. Investigating, Evie witnesses the beating of a girl. Tentaveily going to her aid, the girl, Alice leads them to a large building at the edge of the city where they hear singing coming from a basement window. The battle between newcomers and the vicious pack spirals into a violent explosion. Teen romances, sexual jealousies, and cliques inflame a grisly struggle for food.
Dear Dystopian-children movies*, we need to talk.
When I was younger, I fell hard for you because I discovered a movie called Battle Royale that I could never own because my country refused to release it for a laundry list of very stupid reasons that aren’t important right now. But I accepted that and I felt that if I stuck with you as a genre you could fill the kids-killing-kids shaped hole in my heart. It was a shallow decision to make but I figured if you delivered something amazing once, you could do it again.
I willingly looked the other way as you stumbled through adaptations of The Hunger Games, The Host, and Ender’s Game but I just watched the trailers for The Giver and Divergent and I’m starting to realize that you’re not the sub-genre I thought you were. I’d like to say it’s not you, it’s me, but that would be a lie. After watching Children of a Darker Dawn I can safely say that it is you.
You don’t remember Children of a Darker Dawn? I’m not surprised since you tried so hard to bury this micro-budget Irish indie-film by dumping it unceremoniously on a DVD and had it released by some bargain basement publisher. Even the rave reviews from a series of film blogs on the back cover couldn’t disguise the desperation behind this release.
Still don’t recall? It’s a movie about two sisters – Evie and Fran Meadows – who are on their own in a world where all the adults have died from a virus that doesn’t affect children somehow. Symptoms start out flu-like and the result is death, but the main symptom seems to be uncontrollable bouts of over-acting.
Writer/Director/Producer Jason Figgis has a couple of decent leads in Catherine Wrigglesworth and Emily Forster. Their characters are fairly fleshed out and their line readings are mostly good. Admittedly the strength of these performances is accentuated by the awful acting done by everyone else.
The adult actors are the worst: the insanity caused by the virus is represented by the most bug-eyed manic scenery chewing I’ve seen outside of the most puerile of children’s movies. It’s as if every one of the actors watched the “Not the bees!” scene from The Wicker Man and said, “No, too subtle. I can do better.”
The rest of the teens’ line readings are flat but that’s to be expected; they’re teens, they’re awful at everything. It’s actually the genuine qualities of their performances that are most damaging to the movie. The dialogue, for the most part, is meant to emulate the speech patterns of of teens which means about 80% of the lines spoken are “Shut up” or some variation of. Every line is met with a snarky reply or a venomous insult and the vast majority of actors play it with that punchable smugness that only teenagers and Jenny McCarthy are cable of pulling off. It’s hard to care about the journey of a group of characters when you’re secretly hoping they’ll all be hit by a bus.
Of course, even if the characters were likeable it’d be hard to tell seeing as the audio was seemingly recorded on a calculator and then played through two cans on a string. It’s hard enough to hear without the soundtrack droning on as one long incessant dirge. I get it, shit is bleak! Turn down the music so I can understand the people talking!
Giving credit where credit is due, there are some good concepts at play here. Themes of an entire generation of children dealing with the slow maddening death of their parents and suddenly being alone in a world gone mad; turning to cannibalism and fearing the day they’re old enough to contract the virus. This movie has all the fatalism of The Road filtered through a lens that at times reminds me of George A. Romero’s The Crazies in style, it’s just really really poorly done.
The narrative moves more like a series of vignettes than a straight plot-line and the main characters get side-lined for the middle section of the movie. True conflict is finally introduced toward the end where a group of kids who have turned to cannibalism show up and want to rejoin the tribe, but our main characters get up and leave due to some other dumb conflict, leaving that plot thread dangling. Instead they walk over to a major damp squib of an ending that wraps up no narrative threads and just falls flat.
This movie could be a fairly decent play but even still there would need to be a considerable amount of fat trimmed off. There are far too many characters, most of the dialogue is redundant, characters just show up out of nowhere as if they’ve just been sitting off-camera the whole time, and the plot really goes nowhere. The movie has a great deal of flashbacks, which are a fine narrative device in stories such as this, however every flashback can be summed up as “my parents are behaving like lunatics and I’m super bummed out about it.” And of course it wouldn’t be an apocalypse without cannibalism. Tell me, do you think it’s represented simply as people cooking and eating human meat or is it represented by children munching on random bits of meat, their cheeks and hands stained with blood, like characters in a Victorian-era serial novel? You know damned well which one it is!
I overlooked all those boring young adult novel adaptations because I knew you were just trying to live in the shadow of your older sister, Dystopian-Kids Literature but I can’t keep living this lie anymore. The simple fact is that Children of a Darker Dawn is representative of everything I can’t stand about indie horror and you as a sub-genre. It’s a bad, boring, mess of a movie.
I stuck with you because of the nostalgia I had for Battle Royale, but since discovering you as a genre in 2003 the next best thing I found was Solarbabies! Do you know how pathetic that is? I just don’t think it can work for us anymore, I wish I could say it’s been fun but it really hasn’t. I won’t miss you, and I definitely won’t miss Children of a Darker Dawn.
–P.S. – The DVD presentation of this is pretty bland. It’s just slightly above the quality of those self-published indie movies I usually get. There’s not much in the way of special features, video is 16:8, digital audio, and no subtitles. Also, I cheated on you with Killer-Kid** movies!
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
* – That’s dystopian movies about children, not for children.
** – That’s movies about killer kids, not movies about killers made for kids.