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Short Film Review: Day Zero


Day Zero is a post-apocalyptic thriller from indie film-maker Stephen Nagel, written by Dean Ravell and starring Nicola Duddy, Megan Alexander, Caelan Curry and Brad Roman. Set years after government, scientists and authorities fail to solve a looming water crisis in Cape Town, a group of survivors must make their way to a safe haven pursued by a vicious hunter. In many cases, independent means shoestring budget or no budget at all as in the case of Day Zero. These passionate film-makers took it upon themselves to craft a short film using limited resources about a limited resource, water.

WARNING: Day Zero trailer features strong language.

The film's teaser trailer does a great job of foreshadowing the context of this thriller and probably would've served well as the film's introduction. In fact, it's recommended viewing if you want to make sense of Day Zero, which drops you in the deep end as a ragtag bunch make their way to an oasis. The plot, setting and styling of Day Zero has been directly influenced by Mad Max: Fury Road down to the hunter's mask as this journey unfolds. At first, appearing to be a wasteland slasher, we get snippets of back story as the hunter joins the hunted.

Day Zero is timely, following months after the #DefeatDayZero campaign, greater worldwide awareness with echoes of people saying the next war will be over water. Using many natural locations and ruins in the Cape metropole, they've managed to give the journey scope and setting it against many varied backdrops gives texture. The make up and wardrobe is fitting, adding some layers to the storytelling and transporting the audience to this post-apocalyptic vision of the future with little to no water.

While promising, it's constrained by its budget... probably not giving the film-makers enough time to develop the screenplay and forcing much of the film to be done on the fly according to availability and resources on the day. While it starts like a hot pursuit slasher, it fizzles out as the two parties converge in a rather disappointing anticlimax. Using flashbacks to create tension, there's just not enough exposition to anchor the characters in this world. The amateur ensemble look the part and seem eager to be involved, but perhaps the call should have been for naturalistic performances.

Inconsistency in editing, foley work and performances keep you at a distance. While there are some good ideas at play with some promising shots, the storytelling is a bit haphazard and choppy. You understand the basic outline and motivations, but Day Zero just seems to be a bit too ambitious for its own good struggling to develop one's interest in the characters or scenario. The passion is there, the film-makers are inspired by some edgy cinema but perhaps delving into their memory banks and confining the film to one or two locations would have given them more depth and control over the final product. The good news is that these film-makers are young and hopefully take the experience they've gleaned from this project into their next.