You know where Dawn of the Deaf is going, both from its title (even if, within the film, that does not strictly appear on screen until the end), and from opening text which promises that we are in London “one hour before the pulse”. From the outset this short film is clearly headed towards a Romero-style zombie outbreak, triggered by a Cell-like sound – which only the hearing impaired will likely be able to resist. Yet, confident that we already know this, writer/director Rob Savage can turn a deaf ear to cliché, and focus his attention instead on several dramas of (mis)communication that unfold in the build-up to the apocalypse.
Gloomy teen Sam (Caroline Ward) finds her sign language wilfully mistranslated by her predatory father (Chris Curran). Receiving a Community Spirit Award, Kevin (Stephen Collins) delivers a prideful speech in the voice that has previously seen him ostracised, and that he is himself unable to hear. Nat (Haley Bishop) and Imogen (Radina Drandova) argue furiously with their hands about an otherness that has nothing to do with their shared auditory disability – and as Sam Heasman’s camera circles the arguing couple, their bodies occlude parts of both their (intradiegetic) sign language and the (extradiegetic) subtitles, much as the two women’s intense involvement in each other prevents them, at least at first, from noticing what is happening all around them…
Innovative in its form and playful with its conventions, Dawn of the Deaf employs a familiar genre frame to showcase a community occasionally seen but rarely given a voice in cinema, and to dramatise what it is like to feel constantly beleaguered by brute, ‘normalised’ masses. There is more going on in the brief duration of this sly, savvy short than in many a feature-length zombie flick.