“Dawning” takes place at a Northern Minnesota lake cabin where a brother and sister visit their father and step-mom. As the first night unfolds with uncomfortable small-talk and tension, tragedy strikes as the beloved family dog is found mortally wounded. Almost immediately a stranger, potentially under the spell of some un-seen “presence”, appears in the cabin and tells the family that he has come to save them…but from what? The man’s arrival upsets what at best was only a tentative balance and the pretense at civility begins to crumble. Soon, their lack of trust in each other and their inability to cope with any new pressure exposes their weaknesses and what the stranger has started, whatever is waiting in the dark may finish.
Directed by Gregg Holtgrewe
Written by Gregg Holtgrewe, Matthew Wilkins
Starring: David Coral, Jonas Goslow, Christine Kellog-Darrin
Best line: every overheard thought
Dawning is awesome. It is a subtle, thought-provoking, emotional, well-written, well-acted, well-shot, powerhouse of a film. This is a film that at its core is about paranoia and how it can exacerbate a disjointed family dynamic brought on by the combination of alcoholism and divorce. Sounds like a mouthful doesn’t it? Because it is a mouthful. There’s so much cool stuff going on in this film it’s hard to know where to start, so I guess I’ll go with what makes it all work so well: subtlety.
As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, it’s all too easy for a filmmaker to rely on slapping the audience in the face with copious amounts of gore and cheap scare tactics. And, please, don’t misunderstand; I’m a big fan of that style of filmmaking. When done right it is one of my all-time favorite kinds of film. Occasionally though, it’s refreshing to see a film that affects the mind instead and that’s what Gregg Holtgrewe accomplishes here.
He had his hands full with this one, writing, directing and producing the film, which is a remake of the version he made earlier with a $2000 budget. Here though, he cut down the cast to five characters and dropped the documentary style of shooting to create something truly exceptional in the horror genre: a cerebral film. At first, the dialogue is sparse and ambiguous, and reminded me of the kind of thing you might see in a David Mamet film. Yet through this dialogue you are painted a picture of a family that is trying to get along in spite of having every reason not to.
Dad is an alcoholic who left his wife and kids for the step-mom, the step-mom is a home wrecker, the son is a kid who will never be what his father wants him to be and the daughter is torn up by all of it. As the story progresses you are given glimpses into thought processes through the clever use of dialogue that is never spoken but rather was like a thought overheard. Whether the origin of these thoughts were the other characters’ or projections of the guilty consciences within the character that overheard the thought I couldn’t quite determine, but it didn’t matter either way because the repercussions were what counted. The degradation of the shiny veneer of civility was the result, and that’s what the evil surrounding the cabin was going for.
There have been few films that showcase the downward spiral of paranoia in such awesome fashion. “Bug” (2006, Ashley Judd) was one. Dawning is now another one. The only bad thing I can think to say about it is ridiculous: I didn’t like the way the cabin was decorated. Other than that, be sure to watch this movie. It doesn’t have explosions and won’t drench you in blood so you’ll probably have to go digging for it. You’ll be glad you did.