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STUDIO Vicicous Circle Films, Breaking Glass Pictures
RUNNING TIME 81 minutes
• Behind the Scenes
• Deleted Scenes
• Commentary With Director
• Commentary With Cast
• Commentary with Critics
• Blooper Reel
Like a cross between Evil Dead and The Shining, without all the good parts.–
Director/Writer Greg Holtgrewe, Jonas Goslow, Najarra Townsend, David Coral, Christine Kelogg Darrin, Daniel Jay Salmen–
Dawning follows brother and sister Chris and Aurora as they travel to visit their father and step-mom at the family cabin. As the first night unfolds with uncomfortable small talk and tension, tragedy strikes when the beloved family dog is found mortally wounded. Almost immediately, a crazed, blood-soaked stranger barges into the cabin and tells the family that he has come to save them… but from what? Though their unwanted guest may just be a lone maniac, menacing noises outside suggest the presence of something far more frightening. It’s not long before the family realizes a dark force is at play – one that wants them all dead by the dawning of the day.–
It’s extremely telling that the blurb on the back cover of the box for this is just a copy pasted review. It even ends in a sentence fragment where the review is starting to talk about the film’s finer points.
The gist here is that Chris and Aurora go out to their father’s hunting cabin in the woods to catch up with the man who has been missing for a good portion of their lives after a nasty divorce and make nice with his new wife.
The early scenes actually show a lot of promise as the opening shows a lot of crafty camera-work reminiscent of the beginning of The Shining and our two leads deal with the usual family awkwardness that is captured pitch-perfectly.
The family dog goes missing and is suddenly found mortally injured, the father puts the dog to sleep and then some crazy bloody guy breaks into the house and starts screaming about how he’s protecting them from what’s outside. He naturally does this by stealing the father’s rifle and holding the family at gunpoint.
Fortunately he’s a terrible kidnapper and is easily thwarted by the family and tied to a chair where he remains for most of the rest of the movie while we deal with Dad’s drinking problem, Chris’ slacker nature, Aurora’s blaming the step-mother for breaking up her parents (because apparently she’s 10) and some other stuff.
I’m being unfair. I’m giving the movie shit for all the family problems it deals with but honestly, those are handled really well. Dad’s the sort of gruff man’s man that you could see leading to two emotionally stunted tweens with no direction in life: a daughter that’s immature and has a very subtle princess complex and a sensitive slacker son who just wants to make his father proud of him. Even the step-mom, who is practically a trope in human form works for the movie.
All of the emotional issues are overdone but they’re played fairly organically and they have weight and meaning. This is largely helped by the fact that the actors are above and beyond what one would expect for such a low budget performance. There’s still a few lines of stilted dialogue or some flat reads, but for the most part these characters are real and believable.
Where the film really falls flat is in its ability to be a horror movie. There’s never any sense of menace, even when crazy bloody guy (the only corporeal menace of this movie) doesn’t seem all that dangerous. Which is problematic because the characters are in real danger. Crazy guy warns them that if they go outside they will die, but they do so numerous times with nothing happening to even scare them. At one point Dad just goes and sits in his truck for 45 minutes and nothing happens to him.
Even when characters do die there’s no weight to it, which is pretty bad considering that they are actual human characters and not just victims lined up for the slaughter. There’s no sense of dread or doom, no suspense, no threat. This isn’t a pot boiler, it’s a pan of tepid water sitting in a dark room.
Of course there is a lot of support for this movie, it’s won numerous awards at the Rhode Island, Solstice, and Las Vegas film festivals. I re-watched this movie twice, then watched it with the director’s commentary, then read a bunch of favored reviews because I thought I might not just be getting it.
But no, I get it. I got it the first time. The menace outside is causing the family’s already shaky facade of happiness to shatter apart. Also it’s scary when you don’t see the monster. These concepts are true on paper but only when well-executed, which is not the case here.
If you want to see this concept executed well go check out the movie Dead End from 2003 with Ray Wise and Lin Shaye. It’s a very similar concept with an invisible evil that slowly peels away the layers of false happiness around a family of four. It’s slow. It’s suspenseful. It’s emotional. It’s actually fucking scary!
Or check out The Collapsed a low budget Canadian movie that came out on DVD a couple months ago. Family of four dealing with issues, invisible evil, suspense. It’s all there and it all works better, and the actors in The Collapsed are actually significantly worse than the ones in this movie.
There’s a lot of good things about this movie but they just don’t come together to make something that’s entertaining or even fulfilling. The whole thing reeks of missed opportunities. Director/Writer Gregg Holtgrewe seems like he cares a great deal about what he’s working on but he’s just unable to capture anything palpably scary or thrilling. I think he’s got potential but there’s nothing to see here.–
The movie is shot on the cheap and it shows. It has a very amateurish look to it that’s hard to ignore. Fortunately the lighting is done well so you can always see what’s going on even if you don’t care.
The disc is packed with special features including 3 separate commenteries from the director, the cast, and some movie bloggers who talk about how great it is (just so you know that you’re wrong and this is a piece of art you fucking savage) as well as a featurette and some bloopers. You also get a trailer for Cropsey.–
Out of a Possible 5 Stars