First of all, many thanks to Cortez from Planet of Terror and the film’s director, Gregg Holtgrewe, for sending the screener my way. It’s always a pleasure to help out a fellow filmmaker, plus it’s a nice change of pace to review films you know very little about. I hope the film continues to garner some attention and I wish the filmmakers the best of luck.
Now, for the review. Dawning was well-written, with great characters who all shared unique relationships to one another. The film stars a mismatched brother and sister, who are visiting their father and step-mother in a remote vacation cabin. The events turn toward the bizarre when the family dog is found wounded, only to turn stranger when a bloodied, crazed man appears at the cabin. The man is fearful of what is outside, but can’t explain what he has seen. The screenplay is composed well enough to keep the audience guessing, but giving enough information so that we are not left completely in the dark. Dawning really succeeds in making you want to know what’s going to happen next.
Most of the film takes place in a single location: the interior of the cabin. Much like The Evil Dead, it has an isolated feeling of insanity. You want to escape the cabin, but are afraid to see what’s lurking outside. I mentioned Signs in the subtitle of this post, because the film is heavily reliant on sound to cement the presence of unseen forces. Much like the way Signs orchestrated the alien intruder’s movements through footsteps on the porch, pounding on the roof, and clamoring outside, Dawning uses sound to indicate that something is indeed going on. Although it was a tad draining watching the same people mill around the same place, I was interested in the characters. The relationship between the father and son, and between the daughter and step-mother kept me engaged in their struggle. . For the most part, the family’s decisions are thoughtful and logical. However, at times, I wondered why certain things weren’t attempted sooner. It takes a long time before anyone tries to call for help with the phone, or before anyone tries to drive away in the vehicles.
One of the difficult aspects of the film is the pacing. I think the film loses some steam because a sense of urgency isn’t there. The characters don’t seem as desperate as they should. It isn’t until the third act that the characters actually start to seem panicked, which makes for a slow middle. Looking back, it is remarkable how few events are actually in the film. That is testament to the director and actors for keeping us interested, even if the plot is a bit tedious. With this slow burn, I was anticipating a big reveal or an exhilarating conclusion. I won’t give away the ending, but I must admit that I was disappointed. I felt like I had been held up high and dropped pretty hard, mostly because I had enjoyed everything that came before it so much.
Technically, the film is in pretty good shape. I was surprised by the cinematography, considering the modest budget and the amount of night exteriors. For people not familiar with filmmaking, night exteriors are probably the toughest and most expensive things to pull off on a low budget film. Kudos to the Dawning crew for that. I still see some places where shot choices and composition could have been improved, but it was never distracting. The editing was tight, even if the story wasn’t. The director has done a great job with the actors, making the piece a character-driven horror film, which is rare. Holtgrewe was also successful in creating a menacing, brooding tone, but as I said before, it needed some more urgency here and there.
Great work from some up-and-coming filmmakers. I’m hoping to see more films in the future! PS: That poster freaking rocks!