Dawning (2009)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-06-25 00:10

Written by: Gregg Holtgrewe and Matthew Wilkins
Directed by: Gregg Holtgrewe
Starring: David Coral, Jonas Goslow, and Christine Kellogg-Darrin

Reviewed by: Brett G.

“We're all gonna die..."

Chances are, if you’re in a horror movie, you’re completely oblivious to that fact. That’s why people in these movies rarely believe the guy that tells them they’re all gonna die and that they shouldn’t go outside (of course, they shouldn’t be staying at a remote cabin in the woods in the first place). Sure, this soothsayer is often nuts and he may have wandered in from the dead of night, but I’d be inclined to believe him. The characters in Dawning don’t agree with me, which means their movie is theoretically more exciting than mine would be (since mine would consist of getting the hell out of dodge and fast).

Chris and Aurora are siblings who are headed to their father’s reclusive cabin; he lives there with their step-mother, and they’re all sort of high-strung due to years of issues (he’s a boozer who sort of abandoned them as kids). Weird stuff starts to happen--the dog wanders off and comes back with a fatal wound, the phones are out, etc. But then a stranger wanders in with an ominous message: they’re all going to die because something is out in the woods. It already claimed his girlfriend, and now it’s coming for them.

I guess it doesn’t help that this stranger is pretty forceful in his convictions, going so far as to attack the family and hold them at gunpoint to get his message across. Indeed, Dawning spends about ten minutes having you believe it’s another home invasion flick. Then, it abruptly shifts modes and basically apes The Evil Dead, right down to featuring an unseen malevolent force. Only this time, there’s no cool Raimi-cam or rapist trees. Instead, most of the spookery consists of the aforementioned garbled phone lines (they get the CB radio too!). Once the big mystery is revealed, it does so in cerebral fashion; the terror here is one that creeps up sort of slowly, so don’t expect much bombast and spectacle.

Instead, in the intermittent time, expect to see a lot of bickering between the family members. Obviously, being terrorized by evil provides the perfect opportunity for these people to hash out their problems. Get ready for a lot of yelling incredulous exchanges (“You’re not really going out there, are you?” “I most certainly am!”). And of course they are going out there--and after one of them doesn’t come back, you can bet your ass another one is right behind them to figure out what happened. It’s sort of a tedious affair, really. But still, there’s some honest attempts at character development; Chris is basically the main character, and he ends up being a conduit for the film’s main narrative thrust. I won’t spoil too much, but there’s a thread in there about compassion and evil that barely manages to emerge amidst the dullness.

It’s not all bad though; the production is competent. It’s well-photographed, particularly when the camera is still and reserved; this mostly happens early on when Holtgrewe is establishing the setting (with the exception of an early scene in a car, the entire movie takes place in the cabin and the surrounding woods). It’s appropriately moody, as you’d have to be incompetent to screw up the atmosphere of a “cabin in the woods” flick. I just wish there was something a bit more interesting to back it all up. You know, like some action; by the end of the movie, it feels like nothing has actually occurred. In fact, the last line of the movie basically confirms everything I wrote in the first paragraph--had these people been smarter, they could have avoided what little events do occur (and it’d still probably be just as interesting). Instead, the whole thing feels like it’s holding back some big revelation that never really comes.

Still, attempts at character-driven horror are always welcome; there are some good parts of Dawning that could work well if applied to a better movie. There’s got to be a pile of “good idea/sub-par execution” horror flicks out there, and this is just another one to toss onto it. Breaking Glass Pictures will be releasing the film on June 28th, and the disc will feature a commentary with Holtgrewe, another commentary with the cast, an hour of behind the scenes footage, and deleted scenes. If anything, Dawning is pretty briskly paced, so it’s not a bad way to waste an evening; if you’re a bit of sucker for isolated, backwoods horror, check it out. Rent it!

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