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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Daylight's End (2016) review


Johnny Strong (Rourke), Lance Henriksen (Frank Hill), Louis Mandylor (Ethan Hill), Hakeem Kae-Kazeem (Chris), Krzysztof Soszynski (Alpha Creature), Ed Spila (Bishop), Chelsea Edmundson (Sam/Samantha), Mark Hanson (Burton), Gary Cairns (Drew), Sonny Puzikas (Vlad), Heather Kafka (Earnesta), Matthew Beckham (Harker), James Yeager (Marauder leader)

Directed by William Kaufman

Review by Mark Quon

After three years of following all of the latest developments during the pre-production of the cross-pollinated genre indie feature, DAYLIGHT'S END--a Doomsday/SciFi/Horror/Action epic--I was finally able to see the finished product. Given a limited nationwide theatrical release on the weekend of August 26th, the film likewise premiered on iTunes, and assorted VOD platforms.

The amazing end result exceeded all of my expectations and was definitely worth the wait.

Plot synopsis: Movie opens years after an unknown global pandemic has turned most of humanity into quasi-vampiric creatures whose thirst for the blood of uninfected humans has resulted in the near extinction of humanity.

Enter our protagonist, Rourke. A nomadic lone hunter, equipped with homemade armor, an arsenal of weapons, and a road warrior-type vehicle, who wanders the ruins of civilization as a self-appointed vampire slayer, embarking on a cross country trek seeking vengeance against an evolved super-vampire known as The Alpha, who had killed his loved one during the outbreak of the plague.

During one of his hunting forays, he witnesses a group of humans being ambushed by a band of marauders and rescues Sam, the only one left alive. She claims to be a member of a group of survivors who are holed up in a well-supplied stronghold inside a former Police Station in Dallas which has become a fortress for a small, embattled group of survivors.

After accepting a bargain of all the food, ammo, and fuel he can carry in exchange for getting her back to the stronghold before darkness (these mutated creatures are unable to survive when exposed to direct sunlight; much like their supernatural counterparts), Rourke takes Sam and a semi-catatonic victim of the marauders to their fortress.

Following a tense standoff (based on mutual distrust between Rourke and the group of survivors led by the former DPD Chief Frank Hill), it is revealed that the team of scouts Sam was with prior to their ambush was to locate and evacuate the remaining survivors to a reputed colony of humans beyond the reach of the vampires.

After an uneasy truce, Rourke learns that the evolved Alpha, who's been the target of his vendetta, had arrived weeks earlier and has organized the hordes of vampires into a larger, more formidable force. The increasing frequency and effectiveness of their attacks have made the beleaguered and dwindling numbers of survivors' need to escape a more urgent contingency.

Following a rapid succession of setbacks and losses from the vampires' increasingly effective assaults due to the Alpha's leadership, the group's social cohesion begins to split between factions who favor Rourke's decision to take the fight to the vampire hive; and Frank who favors a more defensive posture, suspecting that Rourke's obsession with vengeance is warping his judgment and will result in disaster.

As the two groups follow their own divergent strategies for survival, random skirmishes between the creatures and the survivors escalate into a relentless, climactic final showdown.

On the surface, this movie appears to have borrowed heavily from Richard Matheson's classic novel, 'I AM LEGEND', along with its most famous film adaptation, THE OMEGA MAN (1973); as well as elements from John Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1977), and post-Apocalypse classics like ROAD WARRIOR (1981).

I have seen more than one reviewer refer to this film as a "Zombie Film"; though, at it's core, it has more in common with disaster/doomsday movies based around an out of control plague such as RABID (1977), 28 DAYS LATER (2002), I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (1970), and George Romero's THE CRAZIES (1973), AKA CODENAME: TRIXIE.

But to label DAYLIGHT'S END derivative would be a disservice to writer Chad Law who deftly utilized the disparate elements of many earlier (and inferior) cult classics, and mainstream hits of the past, into a very compelling movie which combined several different genres into an exciting and streamlined saga. Aside from the excellent pacing, his script contains minimal dialogue; often just enough to give the viewer a glimpse into the personal tragedies and sense of loss suffered by the characters, thus, providing them with depth without deviating from the main plot line.

It also most definitely benefited from Director William Kaufman being at the helm. He displayed plenty of talent for white-knuckled thrillers blending no-holds-barred action with horror and crime drama overtones in his first feature, THE PRODIGY (2005). In DAYLIGHT'S END, Kaufman flawlessly executes a great concept into an intense film with an abundance of gripping action (including plenty of realistic gun handling; and both textbook individual and team tactics) along with a cast of intriguing characters rather than tedious caricatures.

DAYLIGHT'S END would be the second time that lead actor Johnny Strong (who is probably best known to the movie public for his role as real-life CAG Sniper "Shughart" in BLACK HAWK DOWN [2001]) has worked with William Kaufman; their first collaboration being the excellent police-actioner, SINNERS AND SAINTS from 2010. Strong's depiction of Rourke as a lone, laconic, "gunfighter" with a mysterious past, engaged in a personal vendetta, brings to mind the protagonists from the Golden Era of the Spaghetti Westerns such as Tomas Milian and Franco Nero.

With a combination of 30-plus years of experience in the martial arts and having received training in edged weapons and firearms, Strong is able to exhibit a level of authenticity in his action scenes that few actors of any era could boast. 


The legendary Lance Henriksen is another phenomenal addition to the cast. This 76 year old icon never fails to amaze with his versatility by fitting in to whatever a role demands of him. Over the course of the hour and forty five minute running time in DAYLIGHT'S END, you never think of him for one second as "Bishop" from ALIENS (1986) or "Jesse" from NEAR DARK (1987). I suppose the highest compliment one could pay an actor is that he can never be type-cast nor do you lose suspension of disbelief by having his previous--and more well known--roles creep into your psyche and distract you from the present character he is depicting.

Being an accomplished musician who wears more than one hat, lead actor Strong deserves at least two other honorable mentions.

His score for this film imbued the perfect atmosphere and tempo into it from start to finish.

Strong was also given the opportunity to direct several scenes portraying his character's memories/dreams of his life before his own personal Apocalypse--coinciding with the end of the world. He was able to successfully convey some substance into an otherwise enigmatic protagonist. 


In spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that the author is a rabid fan of all the genres--in both print and celluloid, spanning more than a half century--that this movie encompasses, I was pleasantly surprised that DAYLIGHT'S END (2016) made it into my personal favorites list.

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