Lulu (Drew Lindsey Mitchell) lives with her volatile, occasionally abusive boyfriend Shane (Bobby Slaski). She's prone to backing down to him in arguments as a result and giving in to his demands for sex. One such example occurs when we're first introduced to them, preparing to go to a fancy-dress party held by a member of her family. She's dressing up as Little Red Riding Hood, while he's attired as the Big Bad Wolf.

Alas, while in the final throes of getting ready, he discovers papers she's received from a college which suggest she wants to return there and finish her arts degree. Thinking of the expense this will cause, he goes berserk and strikes her in the face. Lulu storms out of the house in costume. At this juncture, a man dolled up as a creepy clown pulls up in a car and says he's there to drive her to the party. She gets in for the lift, but we soon realise there's something weird about the driver; he's seen rubbing his cock as he admires her through his rear-view mirror, for fuck's sake.

It's not long after that that we next see Lulu, bloodied and beaten, and hammering on the door of a cabin in the woods. Luckily, her desperate knocking is answered by Dylan (Kelcey Watson), who was just about to blow his brains out behind teary eyes in the bedroom.

He sits Lulu down and begins to reassure her, but then there's another knock at the door. Two men stand before him - the shifty-looking Neil (Bo Burroughs) and Chad (Timothy Muskatell). They claim to have been in a road accident nearby and, in the confusion, say they've lost their autistic sister who was travelling with them. Has Dylan seen her? Well, Dylan smells a rat, and so offers to ring the police while the men wait outside. Dylan does no such thing but returns to the porch and tells them the police are on their way. By this time Neil and Chad have been joined by Snack (co-producer Jamie Bernadette), who observes that Dylan is packing a gun. Understandably, then, when Dylan requests that this suspicious-looking trio back off from his property to wait for the police to arrive, they agree.

Back in the house, Dylan listens intently to Lulu's story of how she's been attacked and raped. She has cuts and bruises all over, as well as sporting a badly injured ankle. Dylan offers to fix her up, and gives her some of his late wife's clothes to wear. He says they can sneak out the back and drive to a nearby town in his car. However, lovers Neil and Snack, and wimpish Chad, have cottoned on to the fact that Lulu is in fact hiding in Dylan's cabin and need to get to her to "clean up" the evidence of their ill-doings. Chad clearly has cold feet about killing Lulu, until Snack reminds him he had unprotected sex with Lulu - and that DNA needs destroying if he wants to remain a free man.

When Dylan and Lulu do leave the cabin, Neil is waiting behind a tree at the back of the house and a shootout ensues. They run back into the cabin, at which point Dylan confesses he only has the one gun, very few bullets and no military experience - he's a brick-maker who took early retirement. With the house now under siege from Neil and co, Dylan and Lulu seem to be stuck ... but then he remembers what his late daughter Sofia said she would do in the event of a zombie apocalypse: booby-trap the house! Sofia kept a detailed notebook in her toy box of what she would do, which Dylan handily has with him. Lulu seems a little nonplussed by this proposition at first, but is soon roped in to helping out HOME ALONEing the cabin.

In the meantime, the villains loiter in woods considering their next move. It turns out that Chad is Lulu's uncle and he's been quietly grooming her for some time. Neil and Snack even find time to fuck in the bushes. Meanwhile, Lulu and Dylan bond a little during this period of quiet before the incoming storm, and then get busy turning the house into a death-trap.

Things get lairy when Neil and Chad fall out while they're waiting outside, resulting in a spot of unexpected (off-screen) anal violation. Chad comes up with a plan that may just save his life in the short-term: contact Shane, because Lulu will do anything he tells her to - so he should be able to convince her to come out of the cabin ...

Come nightfall, Shane turns up in his car. Chad spins him a yarn, telling him Lulu came to stay with him but she raided the medicine cabinet, fled his place and ultimately broke into Neil's cabin, where she currently resides with what is presumably a drug dealer. Shane's told his help is urgently required to talk her out.

"I love you, I really messed up this time, I know. I really need to talk to you", pleads Shane, "I just wanna get you home safe". Lulu seems convinced by Shane's earnest cries but Dylan's not buying it. This ruse goes tits up once Shane realises he's been set up.

Now it's dark, Dylan knows his assailants will be invading his home shortly ...

DEAD BY DAWN - a generic film title that nevertheless beckons memories of a certain fantastic horror film festival based in Edinburgh (I miss you!) - is directed by Sean Cain, whose previous credits behind the camera also include SILENT NIGHT ZOMBIE NIGHT and TERROR BIRDS. He's most prolific though as an editor (he also edited this, as well as co-writing it with Wes Laurie); arguably the film his cutting room skills most readers will know him for is Chad Ferrin's wild and wonderful SOMEONE'S KNOCKING AT THE DOOR.

He's also edited a lot of TV movies, and DEAD BY DAWN does have a feel of one at times. It's slick-looking, the editing is tight, performances are generally decent and the script is never anything less than proficient. The first half feels a little like an afternoon drama at times, playing it safe, but then it throws curveballs at us by treading into very dark territory (rape, incest, domestic abuse, implied paedophilic tendencies).

Bernadette as the obligatory crazy female is a bit of a cliche; Muskatell brings some humour to proceedings. Perhaps a little too much - I was decidedly confused by the tone of this film during its second half, which ramps up the tension and violence but also throws in odd moments of gentle comedy which didn't really sit well with me.

On another note (no pun intended), Mario Salvucci's music is nicely subtle during tense scenes but a little cloying in more earnest moments. We get attractive, well-lit cinematography from Eric A Wahl, and Marina Coria's low-key practical FX work is decent for what it is.

There's very little in the way of character development so this is a face-value action/home invasion film, where you root for the good guys as they sabotage their dwelling with trip-wires rigged to crossbows, barbed wire snares and bats with nails hammered into them. The villains are cartoonish enough to wish them dead.

Oh, and keep watching during the end credits. There could be a franchise coming, who knows.

Uncork'd Entertainment have released DEAD BY DAWN on US DVD. Handily, for those with lockdown paranoia, they've also made it available to stream on Amazon Prime.

We were sent an online screener link. The 1.78:1 picture respects the original aspect ratio and compositions are very attractive, I must say. As is the visual clarity: I can't say for certain, but the sharp detail and intricate colours make it appear that this was shot on a RED camera - it's all very HD, but professionally film-like at the same time.

The English 2.0 audio was also very reliable.

At 84 minutes and 42 seconds in length, this is the uncut version of the film.

DEAD BY DAWN is a moderately entertaining addition to the home invasion cycle, complete with decent performances and unusually unsavoury forays into inter-family rape and domestic abuse. It fails to use these plot devices as commentary in any way, however, so you do have to wonder whether Cain simply hoped to shock. The humour undermines such intentions, as does the reticence to really push the boat out and deliver something other than a relatively light, teen-level exercise in poor taste.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Uncork'd Entertainment