Chris and Aurora are spending the weekend with their father and step-mother at the family's cabin to enjoy all the peace and quite the mountains have to offer. The family's get together is disrupted when they find their dog mortally wounded and a stranger who barges into their home, bleeding and screaming about an evil entity in the woods. Unsure of what to do, the family sits and waits. Is there something out the woods, something that is looking to destroy and tear this family apart?
"Dawning" is another recent title from the folks at Breaking Glass Pictures and like "The Anniversary at Shallow Creek" it looks to reshape or redefine what we call horror. Instead of blurring the lines between thriller and suspense with horror, director Gregg Holtgrewe mixed in drama elements, particularly family drama, in with a horror story of the unknown.
Chris along with his sister Aurora head up into the woods to meet with their father Richard and their step-mother Laura, and have a small family vacation. Tension is clearly in the air between each other and the tension mounts when the family dog is mortally wounded and a stranger barges into their home, covered in blood. Screaming about an evil presence in the woods, the family is unsure of what to do or what is going on. Slowly but surely, the walls close in on everyone in the cabin as fear and paranoia sets in. As the night moves on things become worse as no one can tell if there is indeed something evil out in the woods or if it's the family's dark secrets that are invading their home.
"Dawning" is as close as you can get with a horror movie using the bare essentials to tell a story: a handful of cast members and a single location -- the movie could almost qualify as a Dogme film. Obviously anyone looking for an atypical blood 'n boobs horror movie had better keep on looking as this movie wants to get to the viewers through with atmosphere and character drama. As The Jaded Viewer put it in his review: "Dawning" is 80% drama and 20% horror." Now I'm no mathematician so I can't vouch for these numbers but the movie's story focuses on the drama while the atmosphere adds the horror. I'll spoil this movie just a wee bit and say that there is something out in the woods, but what it is, is unknown. That's where the horror comes in -- even though the characters go out into the woods, the movie feels very claustrophobic. Something is closing in but no one knows what it is and the stranger isn't talking.
The rest of the movie is aimed at the dynamic between our characters -- from the start we can tell that something isn't right with this family and that they're putting on a show of comfort and joy in the beginning. The 'evil' out in the woods is our antagonist but also serves as the catalyst that separates and destroys these people. Because we are never sure as to what is going on or what lies in wait outside the cabin. We can't tell if it's something 'evil' that is creeping in or rather delusions brought on by guilt, anger, and shame from their past and their secrets. The drama here isn't hard hitting but it makes the story work and also helps to keep you watching because you want to know the answers, you want to see what will become of everyone.
"Dawning" isn't without its flaws; I very rarely feel the need to comment on a low budget movie needing improvement with cinematography and lighting, unless it's absolute shit, because these movies do what they can with what they got. However, with this movie, while not awful, I would have really liked to have seen some more interesting camera work and some better lighting. What they have works, it doesn't drag the movie down or hurt it (there are some shining moments in the cinematography) but I think with some improvement in those two areas it could make the movie really pop. Then again, that's just my personal opinion on that matter and my only complaint with the movie.
The rest of the movie is actually great and quite impressive for such a low-key and simple (for lack of a better word) concept, especially with the actors. "Dawning” works as well as it does because there is good writing behind it but also because Gregg Holtgrewe managed to put together a cast that is believable. I'm sure there are those who would disagree with me though but I'm sure they're the same folks who are whining because of the movie's ambiguous ending. Though it's that general ambiguity of the presence makes the horror element work because it kept me, like a few others, glued to the movie wanting to know what "it" was. "Dawning" isn't the best movie I've seen this year but it's good, real good, and accomplishes a lot with very little by successfully blending horror with drama.