SFM: Darkest Days Movie Released! Critique Included

A few months ago, I auditioned for an ambitious project – a feature length Left 4 Dead 2 movie being developed by Danny Field in the Source Film Maker program. Now this amazing, huge-scale production – Darkest Days – has been released! I am happy to have provided voice acting work for this huge project! I got the roles of the surly but strong leader Coach, and the disgruntled war vet Bill. Check out the clips below!

Like it? Then be sure to watch the full movie here!

Contains mature content.

 

 

!!! SPOILERS BELOW !!!  A Critique From Ben Paddock !!! SPOILERS BELOW !!!! 

Be sure to watch the movie BEFORE reading below.

 

 

It’s a special day. Darkest Days, the first feature-length Source Filmmaker Production, created by Danny Field has been released, and I have the honour of being part of the voice cast – namely Bill and Coach. It was a pleasure to work for the guy and I’m glad that this project is now available for all to see.

Having watched the movie, I can say that it was definitely a thrilling experience and a must-watch. Being the first Source Film Maker movie, it’s groundbreaking, and something to be watched by anyone who wishes to get into using SFM. I found the movie so interesting that I had to give a critique of the highs and lows of this monumental production. I’ll be talking about the movie as a whole, so SPOILERS ahead.

Now I wouldn’t use the term “musical” to describe this movie, as it’s nothing like what you would normally think a musical to be, but by definition, that’s what it is – a movie with musical interludes sung by the characters to illustrate key moments of the movie. The heavy metal soundtrack is certainly powerful, and really works well for, say, setting up an intense battle with the zombies, but the screamed vocals seem to distract, preventing the viewer from imprinting their own thoughts and emotions into the scene. That’s not to say the vocals of the songs worsen the movie – Danny has clearly made a careful selection of songs to convey the themes within the movie and every song is a great fit.

The character animation, at times, seems lacking. Many of the movements look like simple start-stop rotations performed in a 3D modelling program, and doesn’t look very smooth or realistic. This can become even more apparent when you compare it with some of the smoother animations that the characters have, such as when they turn around, or gesture with their hands – presumably taken straight from the character’s animations from Half Life 2.

The camera work is very well done. The only problem is that it focuses mainly on the characters rather on the zombies, and this can prevent the viewers from knowing how much danger the characters are in. It’s hard for the viewer to understand the scale and threat of the zombie attacks, and whether or not the survivors make it out alive seems random. There are multiple instances of this in the movie. One such is the city massacre scene. All the survivors are promptly dead or overrun from the beginning, but the zombie threat is not visible. How were they wiped out so quickly? It’s establised through one or two lines of dialogue that the city houses a horde of zombies, but this is hardly conveyed through the camera work.

Now, this movie goes out of its way to break convention. This is admirable, but it does this in a way that I can only describe as ‘relentlessly’. Even though the zombies aren’t the fast moving ones from the Left 4 Dead games, their brutality is certainly made apparent. Survivors don’t go down from a few bitemarks and blood spatters – rather, they are torn in half. The city massacre scene shows rapid shots of the survivors missing anything from one limb, to being reduced to just a head. I have to question this unabashed dismemberment – how are there so many whole zombies around if they leave so little of their victims?

The numerous deaths that take place in the film are jarring and not conventional, and while I imagine people don’t want to watch the good characters being pulled apart in slow motion, I have to credit the movie for showing something we’re not really used to. Or maybe just me, I’m not terribly initiated into zombie movies, but the graphic dismemberment seems a little excessive. The gore is rather inconsistent even for the zombies – several zombie heads explode from a pistol shot in one scene, and in the next scene one produces no blood or impact whatsoever.

The fight to the shipyard – in its length and intensity – seemed to illustrate the final obstacle before the remaining survivors could have their freedom. This scene was particularly uplifting – not a single survivor fell, one being so able as to fight the zombies with kung fu. Now the action was fantastic, and it all seemed to be building up to a triumphant finish and happy ending – since half the survivors had already died, it seemed only fair.

Now the next scene worked well. The survivors were on the boat – tired and saddened by the loss of their comrades who went to the city, but the fighting was over, and it looked like they had survived. The music choice was good at setting a sad, but calm tone. That would have been a perfect place to end the movie. But then came the final scene.

Honestly, were the last five minutes of the movie REALLY necessary? Right down to the shot of the seagull, some kind of heartwarming symbolism, shown lying ripped in half, and still ALIVE no less, this scene was obviously meant to be a No Holds Barred Beatdown on our emotions, to literally tear apart any hope we had of a happy ending. I didn’t feel this sequence had anything to add to the movie, it just left me feeling depressed, even offended. Now far be it from me to say that zombie movies should go without twist endings, but in my honest opinion I don’t think this was the way to go. With Jesse being the only remaining character from the start of the movie, I felt that his brother and his niece being dead was something that he had to address in order to complete his character arc. Instead of the scene of everyone being killed, I would have either had Jesse jump into the ocean in order to join them in death, or making a clear choice to stay alive in memory of them, then ending the movie.

With all this said, I’m not in any way saying this movie was a wasted effort. To think that one man produced this whole movie, it’s really admirable. The movie holds together overall and is worth a watch. Just because it could use a little more work, that doesn’t detract from the immense amount of work that has gone into it. I even did some voice acting for this movie, and even if it wasn’t my cup of tea, I’m still glad to have contributed, and Danny should feel immensely proud for putting this all together.

Congratulations and well done to all those involved!

-Ben Paddock, Voice of Coach and Bill

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