Starring Dan Rickard, Chris Wandell, Samantha Bolter, Richard Wilkinson
Directed by Dan Rickard
Distributed by Left Films
In low budget Brit flick Darkest Day, writer/director Dan Rickard stars as… Dan, a guy who wakes up on a secluded beach with no memory of who he is, where he is, or how he got there. Setting off in search of help, he quickly finds himself wandering desolate city streets, strewn with litter and wrecked vehicles. It’s all very 28 Days Later, and true to that film’s form, Dan comes across a couple of other people and inadvertently draws the attention of a gang of growling, pumped-up sprinting ‘infected’.
With one of his new companions meeting their end at the hands of the enraged infected, Dan runs off with the remaining individual, who leads him to a safe house populated by what appears to be the city’s sole group of survivors. As is to be expected, it seems that a zombie-like virus is busy ripping its way through the UK’s populace, and the amnesiac Dan has woken up right in the middle of it.
As events lead the slowly dwindling group on a cross-country hike to apparent safety, the military also weigh in on what appears to be a ‘seek and destroy’ mission – pumping bullets into survivors and infected alike with nary a second thought. Of course, there’s a mystery here as to just why the military appear to be following the group. It shan’t be spoiled, here, but anyone with more than a passing knowledge of the zombie genre will likely know what it is right from the beginning.
Darkest Day is most certainly a home-grown, amateur effort, but it also manages to shine the kind of light that can only come from a labour of love – something which it most certainly is, having been shot, edited and finished over the course a large number of years.
The cast range from just passable to pretty good, though the characters tend to be drawn too broadly and lack truly convincing relationships, leaving them little more than zombie (or bullet) fodder in the eyes of the audience. This drags the flick down, as a good amount of time is spent attempting to develop the gang through dialogue, yet they never feel like a group whose personalities carry any weight – dropping much of the film into a realm of slow drudgery as we accompany them across the countryside and witness the inevitable bickering. Rickard also feels incredibly dull as a leading man, owing in equal measure to his po-faced performance and a script that offers very little in the way of an arc for Dan.
The proceedings are given added pep by Rickard’s use of the military, who are absolutely ruthless in their approach to the survivors – a very much ‘shoot on sight’ policy. Why they’re after Dan is an unsurprising revelation, but Rickard does enough to make them a convincing threat and a genuinely worthy addition to his story.
Most striking is the effects work, which is delved into in some depth in the special features on this disc. Through some ingenious use of miniatures and CG elements, Rickard has created a visual scope that seems far beyond the reach of his resources – adding military vehicles, extra soldiers, burnt out and wrecked cars etc. to such a degree that it really does build a convincing setting for the action, and never once looks fake. It’s just a pity that, despite the obvious amount of effort and care that has gone into making Darkest Day, we’re at a point in the zombie/infected genre where the landscape is so saturated by product like this that, with nothing innovative or remotely new to offer, the reasons to bother watching it are depressingly few.
Darkest Day is a perfectly capable, and admirably made, indie flick given its quite obvious limitations – but it can’t help but leave itself rendered irrelevant by its purely derivative approach. In a nutshell, it’s a backyard 28 Days Later with fewer set pieces and lesser characters. That’s it.
Left Films give us Darkest Day on DVD alongside a couple of trailers for the film, and a very interesting ‘Making of’ that runs around 30 minutes and goes into plenty of detail with writer/director/star Dan Rickard and his cast and crew regarding the film’s multi-year creation. It’s a nicely edited, sturdy look at the world of low budget indie filmmaking and ingenuity, and forges a new respect for the film itself when the effort involved is revealed.
- Making of the film