In April last year, I reviewed “One In The Chamber”, a fun thriller starring Cuba Gooding Jr and Dolph Lundgren, and said director William Kaufman was one to look out for. I, of course, promptly forgot all about him until the other day, when I noticed he had a new movie out, so here we are.
It’s a post-apocalyptic thriller, which is right up there with my favourite genres – that, martial arts tournaments, and anything set in deep space, are probably the top three. In a surprisingly ballsy opening, we’re introduced to our main character, Rourke (Johnny Strong), as he does some pretty weird stuff – locks the door to a freezer that clearly has someone in it, then chains it to his car, drags it out in the sun and opens it. Vampires! Well, they’re sort of vampires, perhaps a bit more like fast zombies with an extreme sun allergy, but it looks like there was an outbreak and it pretty rapidly took over the world.
The first five minutes or so are silent, just Rourke trying to survive in scenes which do double duty as most of the exposition you need, and it’s really good to see a director this confident about their material and ability to shoot it. Having seen about eight hundred B-movies in the last four years, finding a director who actually knows what they’re doing is rare indeed. If you’re at all like me, you’ll be able to tell very early on if a movie is going to be good or not, and I felt like I was in safe hands with this one.
Anyway, Rourke saves a group of cops – well, not quite a group at the end of the battle – from a gang of scavengers, who just want to do some raping, murdering and stealing but are stopped in a hail of bullets. He and Sam (Chelsea Edmundson) go back to the cops’ base, which appears to be their old station house, complete with cells where everyone sleeps at night for safety – he’s promised food, fuel and ammo, but gets sucked into helping. The two names you’ll recognise are Lance Henriksen (“Knights”, “House 3”) as the head of the little group, and Louis Mandylor (“Champions”) as his son – there was another son, who was engaged to Sam, but he was killed in a previous raid.
Someone discovers a cargo plane, so the plot then becomes rounding up all the survivors and getting them from where they are to the airfield, all during daylight hours. There’s debates about whether to go or not, debates about how to do it, and things are sped up when along comes an “Alpha”, a vampire who’s capable of higher thought and is organising the vampires, blocking the road to delay their escape. He’s fixated on Rourke, so it seems, and it’s these tensions that drive the main narrative of the movie. Rourke sticks around partly to help them, partly so he can have a chance at the Alpha (the fixation goes both ways).
Let’s be fair before we get to the gushing praise, this isn’t the most original idea in the world. It’s healthy doses of “I Am Legend”, “Assault On Precinct 13”, “Mad Max 2” and “28 Days Later”; crossed with any of a hundred 80s Italian post-apoc movies, where the loner hero meets a pretty girl, or a kid, and gets dragged into a battle, learns a bit of humanity, before wandering off at the end and leaving the main female cast member looking wistfully at his departing car.
All that is standard, but it works. What I did really like was the dealing with the debates on how to tackle the situation, as they actually seemed like well thought-out positions and not just empty words. The addition of the Alpha to proceedings gave it an interesting flavour, too.
It’s in visuals and atmosphere where “Daylight’s End” really excels, though. We know that daylight is safety for the humans, and night is death, but so much of the movie takes place in the murk, as if the characters are trying to drag themselves out of the darkness but can’t succeed fully. The characters try to make connections with each other, try to re-forge the bonds of friendship, but it’s as if they realise that all this is pointless and the ultimate aim of their journey (a settlement way out in the desert, that can’t be reached in one night’s travel, protecting it from vampire attack) is futile and about as likely to be safe as any other refuge in any other post-apocalyptic movie. There’s not so much as a whisper of levity here, and the characters are tired and filthy and one gets the feeling they just want it all to be over, one way or the other.
If you read anything else about this movie, you’ll read a lot about the gunplay, and how it’s much better than your average big-budget action movie. No argument from me on that score, it’s shot very well and the visual and spatial sense of the movie is strong. If I was feeling particularly harsh I’d say there’s perhaps a little too much of it? It’s very long for a B-movie (over 100 minutes) and I wouldn’t have been too upset if they’d trimmed 10 or 15 minutes from it. There’s only so many times you can watch faceless cannon fodder get gunned down in the middle distance before it becomes a bit samey. I also think the Alpha could have done with more development, perhaps cut a few battles and give us a hint of what the vampires do when there’s no human around. Are they completely animalistic? Or is there some sort of society?
But this is small beer. Johnny Strong, who also composed the soundtrack, is an excellently stoic lead (he’s worked for Kaufman before, but has barely acted in years), Mandylor, Henriksen, Edmundson and the rest of the cast are great, and it’s got an atmosphere you rarely see in lower-budget B-movies. I’m delighted people are giving William Kaufman money to make movies, and I look forward to seeing more of his stuff (I’ll also review some of his older movies, if I get the chance).
Rating: thumbs up