By Daulton Dickey | August 23, 2005

No-budget horror movies have been plentiful since the advent of consumer model cameras. Every topic from zombie movies to killer condoms have been thoroughly explored and, usually, exhausted to such a radical extent that the films have no appeal beyond the gore factor—which is always plentiful, usually outweighing story, dialogue, and, occasionally, character.

Writer/Director Brian Paulin follows in this tradition with “At Dawn They Sleep,” a gory gangster-cum-vampire film that, unlike its guerrilla counterparts, manages to squeeze a mildly interesting story into the blood-soaked gaps.

Following two drug dealers, Stephen and Ian, the film tracks their violent rivalry with an opposing gang, which is abruptly sidelined when they hook up with two strange women. After a night in the sack, they wake feeling slovenly and exhausted. Later, they realize that the women were stranger than they appeared when they discover that they’ve been turned into vampires.

By this point in the film we’ve been treated to nudity and gratuitous violence. In both cases they were only vaguely justified. The nudity during the sex scenes in which Stephen and Ian are transformed into vampires works well because it—in its own way—works to further the plot. But the violence up to this point is mostly an exercise in violence for the sake of violence. While a few killings early on are supposed to illustrate our protagonists’ viciousness, the first two killings are sufficient and everything afterward—including a rather dramatic shoot out between Stephen, Ian, and members of a rival gang—seem superfluous.

More extreme violence ensues when Stephen and Ian realize they’ve become vampires. When they’re encountered by one of the women who turned them into the undead, they learn that she is neither human nor vampire but an angel who’s come to Earth to rid of the planet of humans so the angels can claim the planet as their own. Sides are drawn when Satan converts Stephen to the dark side and convinces him that the angels are telling tales out of school.

This is a film by amateur filmmakers who have an obvious love for B movies; unfortunately their talent doesn’t quite match up to their ambitions. While the special effects are surprisingly professional and effective, everything else falls short. The acting falls somewhere between amateurish and high school AV project. Often the actors are smiling or suppressing smiles while they deliver lines disjointed dialogue and ad-libbed expletives—of which there are plenty. There is not one professional, or semi-professional, actor here, and as a result we’re forced to endure acting that’s so bad at times it becomes a distraction to the viewer.

The cinematography bodes worse; shots are often poorly framed and deteriorate any sense of depth of field—though, granted, this was shot of video, which restricts depth of field, though there are ways to compensate. Examples include myriad scenes in which actors are shot sitting, standing, or leaning against bare walls. There is no sense of aesthetics or composition here; the camera is usually pointed at the actors without a sense of artistry or conviction, creating a strange cross between a Dogme movie and home videos shot by inexperienced camera operators.

“At Dawn They Sleep” begins as a mundane, poorly executed story about murder and violence, but it somehow transcends the tight restrictions the sub genre affords it and becomes a semi-interesting tale about the ambiguous nature of good versus evil. Now if only Paulin and crew can figure out how to act and compose interesting shots they may actually be able to make a movie worth watching.

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