Directed by Gregg Holtgrewe
There are perks to being a part of the horror blogosphere. One of them is getting to see a film the blogosphere has been praising for a while now. After getting a screener from director Gregg Holtgrewe, I had high expectations as much of the buzz was overtly positive.
So would I be part of the "Yay" team?
I cannot lie. Dawning is quite yay, a few hiccuppy nays but all good.
When a indie filmmaker like Holtgrewe can make a small budget movie look completely Hollywood, that alone is all kudos. The movie looks professional, the imagery and photography are top notch and the acting solid. But what makes Dawning stand out is the drawn out suspense that chills you to the bone.
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.
Dawning as described by Holtgrewe in a interview with Rhonny Reaper @ Dollar Bin Horror is the best of a drama and the great elements of horror. In essence the movie is really 80% drama and 20% horror. So I'll try to break it down that way.
Chris and Aurora go visit their father and step mom. Their relationship with their father is already disjointed. Various conversations and actions play out like a Lifetime Movie of the Week and you can sense the tension within all of them.
The family is looking to come together but this is not going to happen. The acting here by the cast is really solid. You sense the strain between him, his wife and his 2 kids. Alcoholism is a main factor but resentment is ever evident. Najarra Townsend who plays Aurora emotes over a lost dog seems genuine as does Jonas Goslow's Chris who plays the slacker happy pothead.
The first half of the movie is truly mesmerizing as a broken family tries to put the pieces back together.
After their dog dies, the family is equally disturbed. Soon a mysterious man bursts into their home and holds them hostage. Seemingly crazy, the family tries to MacGyver a plan together to get out of this situation.
Similar to M.Knight and even a few Twilight Zone episodes, the suspense is built up over time. It's a slow burn that is built up predominately with sound, exterior shots and closeups. Minimal conversation is uttered. Very Hitchcockian in that way.
At one point, our mysterious hostage taker screams "Eviiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiillllllllllll!!!!" This is pretty much our only glimpse into what may be outside their log cabin. Because something is outside the cabin and we and the family DO NOT KNOW what it is. Soon chaos ensues as the stranger, the evil mysterious force haunting them start to breaks up the family into madness.
You would think the family would become stronger when dealing with a common enemy but here Holtgrewe has us see them falling apart in front of our very eyes. It's done well and we really empathize as they turn on each other as the evil consumes them.
With this 20% horror is an unknown assailant. The fact that we don't get an explanation is good as it opens it up into interpretation, but without a hint of what this evil force is, the horror element is lacking. Even in The Mist we got to see what this ultimate monster was. You cannot introduce a unstoppable, uber coercing evil and not try to explain what's going on. That's a disservice to being partly a horror movie.
All in all, Dawning is a solid suspenseful and chilling film that will have you hearing things in the middle of the night. It's a delight to see a independent movie that isn't a generic horror movie in a box. Holtgrewe's blending of two genres was a risky experiment but Dawning makes it work.
The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis
My fellow horror bloggers have reviewed this movie and you can check out all their reviews by going here. Check out the official site for more info on screenings and press.