Studio: Simon West Productions
Director: Krisztian Majdik, Zebediah Y. De Soto
Writer: David Schwartz, Zebediah Y. De Soto, Jib Polhemus, Mario Goldstein
Producer: Simon West, Jib Polhemus, Gus Malliarodakis, Matty Mangone-Miranda, Naveen Chathappuram, Paresh Ghelani
Stars: Tony Todd, Danielle Harris, Bill Moseley, R. Madhavan, Joseph Pilato, Tom Sizemore, Alona Tal, Sarah Habel, Sydney Tamiia Poitier
Seven survivors are forced to band together in a New York apartment building during a deadly zombie outbreak.
Ever wondered what George A. Romero’s 1968 zombie classic might look like reimagined as a crude cutscene for a PlayStation 1 game? No? Doesn’t matter, because here comes “Night of the Living Dead: Darkest Dawn,” an animated movie with CGI so dated it wouldn’t even approach the cutting edge of a butter knife if it were 1995.
A plot synopsis is unnecessary, as “Darkest Dawn” is simply “Night of the Living Dead” retold in modern day Manhattan. Astonishingly, four credited writers were required to adapt a finished story that has already been recreated multiple times. It is a silver platter of proven fiction, yet the production nevertheless goes out of its way to negligently dump the contents on the floor. The main change aside from superficial details is that while Tom’s carelessness at a gas pump was originally at fault for destroying the truck in a pivotal scene, Ben’s actions now create the fatal explosion. So “Darkest Dawn” effectively takes the primary protagonist and refashions him from historic hero to inadvertent screwup responsible for the subsequent deaths of three people. Brilliant.
“Night of the Living Dead: Darkest Dawn” is unforgivably ugly. The head on Ben is so smushed and blurred that he looks like an armed robber wearing a nylon stocking over his face. None of the model designs make any sense. The story is set in New York and takes place in December, yet much of the populace is outfitted in short sleeves and tank tops. If rendering coats and scarves is undesirable, then change the month to May for crying out loud. Watching Barbara visit a wintry graveyard while snow falls, all I can focus on is how uncomfortably cold she must be in a skirt and V-neck top.
Environments are just as poorly realized. Every street and building is an expansive stretch of unpopulated emptiness constructed from uniform boxes and bland textures. When Tom and Judy are depicted inside their vehicle in a parking garage, only two other cars are in sight. When multiple cars are shown outside, they all reuse the same model. It’s ludicrous when Harry Cooper warns that the group won’t make it ten feet outside their door before being ripped to shreds by an undead horde, even though when they finally leave, the zombies encountered over a one-mile sprint can be counted on one hand.
Since the film has such limited assets, tension is nonexistent. The city is rendered as a virtual ghost town, not because of desertion, but because the movie has nothing to put onscreen. One key scene sees Ben tiptoeing around a gas station, effectively lollygagging as he slowly turns on the pumps so as to not arouse any commotion. The camera cuts to close-ups of the others frightfully glancing around, evaluating the distance for danger. Except the landscape is so barren both inside and out that there are no blind spots or hidden corners for unseen threats to lurk. From where is dread meant to stem?
With more than one superior interpretation of the same material readily available, why should anyone be interested in a poorly-rendered animated version of “Night of the Living Dead” to begin with? Because fan favorites Tony Todd and Bill Moseley are in it? They already played the same roles in Tom Savini’s 1990 remake. Danielle Harris? Her catatonic Barbara goes silent quickly and fades into background obscurity.
This is a movie no one asked for, and a movie no one wants. See the project’s failed Indiegogo campaign for proof. In one month, “Darkest Dawn” raised just $1,225 from 20 donors (24 backers are listed, but two contributed twice and another donated three times – in fact, that person’s $240 combined pledge constitutes 20% of the total cash raised). Indiegogo generously rounds up when citing total contributions as reaching 1% of the target. $1,225 is actually only 0.006% of the $200,000 pipe dream. When no more than 20 horror fans are willing to contribute to a project using a recognizable property and featuring Tony Todd, Danielle Harris, and Bill Moseley, the concept is seriously flawed on a fundamental level.
Part of me was primed to award doubt’s benefit, presuming this was a one-person DIY effort built in a bedroom with pre-installed software. It only looks that way. End credits cite a crew numbering in triple digits, including 19 animators, 13 compositors, 13 modelers, 14 3D artists, 20 people from the motion-capture contractor, six producers, and dozens more riggers, consultants, and various artists. Mount manpower like this and then have the nerve to charge $4.99 per iTunes rental for something running 58 minutes without credits and any leniency is entirely undeserved.
Even at barely an hour, “Night of the Living Dead: Darkest Dawn” is excruciating to sit through. Rubbing your retinas with steel wool would be less painful on the eyes. It would also be cheaper and who knows, it might even be significantly less annoying as far as undesirable experiences go.
NOTE: The film was previously titled “Night of the Living Dead: Origins.”
Review Score: 10