ftcoverSTUDIO: Break of Dawn Productions
MSRP: $20.00 + shipping
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 70 Minutes

The Pitch

The true-life story of the Lawson Family Massacre, as told through an incredible amount of Photoshop.

The Humans

Lots of old people, too numerous to mention.

The Nutshell

First off, you can’t buy this film from Amazon.com. If you’d like to purchase it, you have to order it directly from
www.bodproductions.com, or just click on the DVD cover image at the top.

The year: 1929. The place: Stokes County, North Carolina. It was Christmas Day and Charlie Lawson, a tobacco farmer, decided he was going to savagely murder his entire family (save one) and then kill himself. This documentary attempts to raise some questions about the day, but never answers any of them.

The Lowdown

Watching this film is like going to your grandparent’s or great grandparent’s house. Everything is faded and brown, the wallpaper should have been replaced 20 years ago, and everything smells like mothballs, mildew, and gumdrops. Your grandparents sit in the reclining chairs they probably should’ve thrown out years ago and they proceed to tell you stories that you’ve heard over and over again. But you have to listen anyway.

This is as interesting as it gets, folks…

This documentary wants to be fresh and new, and wants to say important things, and I’ll give director Matthew Hodges credit for that. But it ultimately fails in saying anything of relevance. It certainly doesn’t help that the production looks cheap. So cheap, in fact, that halfway through the film I thought that maybe this was an elaborate hoax…like Peter Jackson’s Forgotten Silver without any of the brilliance. It wasn’t until the next day when I did a Google search and found several sites with info about the murders, that I was sure it was real.

It doesn’t help that the film focuses mostly on vague recollections of the day, stories passed down from relatives, and ghost stories that have cropped up around the area. A whole segment of the film focuses on the raisin cake that two members of the Lawson family made that morning and how people who visited the house afterwards would steal the raisins from around the cake to remember the day. We get stories of the director seeing ghost children when he was a kid, apparently haunting him “five out of seven days of the week for the past 27 years.” Adults feeling strange malevolent presences, or cars that won’t start over a certain bridge and then hand prints start appearing because the dead Lawson children want to get into the car. Legends that may mean something to people who have grown up in Stokes County, but mean nothing to those who haven’t; and considering most towns have an old spooky house with mostly bullshit legends surrounding them, this offers us nothing new or of substance.

Several theories as to why Charlie Lawson murdered 6 members of his family are brought up, but never conclusively answered. Was it brain damage after getting into a fight with a member of the town and getting hit in the head with an axe? Was it because he assaulted and impregnated his daughter? Was it the pressure of being a small town tobacco farmer during the Depression? Why did he send his eldest son, Arthur, to the town that day? Nobody knows, and everybody in Stokes County seems to have theories, because if they didn’t have this to talk about…. then what would they talk about? It’s strange to see a town so wrapped up in something that didn’t happen to the people directly, and digging deeper and deeper into a mystery that can never be solved.

I was wrong. This is as interesting as it gets.

In the last 20 minutes or so, ideas about domestic violence and abuse are presented. A point is even made that the more the legends and myths are remembered the less the tragedy of the events is remembered, rendering the first 45 minutes of the documentary pointless. We get three ways of spotting domestic violence and how to confront people about it; which is all fine and good, except for that the recreations of that fateful day seem to be done with a certain amount of glee. They’re certainly not the “jaw-dropping dramatic recreations” that the back of the DVD case touts them as being, and since the recreations are one of the centerpieces of the film, maybe he should’ve made an on-the-cheap exploitation film instead, as it seems that was the effect the director was going for anyhow.

The Package

There are no trailers or special features to speak of. Nor is there a menu on the DVD itself to speak of.


4 out of 10