2009, Dir. by Gregg Holtgrewe.
After reading a few reviews from other fellows and checking out the official website and trailer, I had a gut feeling that Dawning was a movie worth seeking out. Previously I've avoided screener situations, but the word on Gregg Holtgrewe's film had me willing to take a chance. I'm very glad I did.
Dawning opens with two siblings heading to a secluded cabin where their father and step-mother reside. What's planned as a weekend of family bonding for the group quickly turns into an experiment in fear. While the setting brings to mind films like The Evil Dead or Cabin Fever, the experience Dawning offers is quite different than anything you've seen in their brand of horror film.
Dawning draws its power from the script, which focuses on establishing this seemingly normal family and the differences that divide them. The father may or may not be working to recover from alcohol dependency, while his son is focused on sneaking off for a calming joint and is considering dropping out of college against his father's wishes. At the same time, both children aren't yet sure if they accept their step-mother or their differing paths in life, and there's an uneasy dynamic between everyone from the start.
I'm reminded of The Omen when considering the force at work in this film - particularly the warning given that discusses evil "pitting man against his brother, til man exists no more." By quickly establishing the discord between family members, the setting alone provides tension for the viewer when considering the relationships of the characters in peril. When a beaten and terrified man shows up at the cabin claiming that "it" is out there, we don't need to know much more. We've already seen that this family can't agree on how to deal with difficult situations together, and that's as dangerous to them as whatever "it" is.
Dawning not only establishes an engaging sense of dread through its plot, it's technically sound to boot. The film is shot crisply, using the confined setting to its advantage while creating distance between characters and objects with some great foreground/background shots. The sound design is most impressive, turning creaking boards and rustling trees into the bumps in the night you'd expect from a film of this sort.
This isn't a film without flaws. Some of the acting is a little forced, but considering the deep material and the relative inexperience of the cast they're better than I expected. The performances are very real, and that's what's most important to a visceral film like this. It's also a slow burn of a horror film, comparable to last year's The House of the Devil in pace, and by the mid-point of the film I found myself wondering how the film could wrap everything up within its runtime. This does leave the ending seeming very abrupt, but it also left me with questions to ponder as the end credits rolled.
I don't know if Dawning will find its way out of the woods and make its mark in the landscape of horror cinema, but I'm definitely pulling for Holtgrewe and his film. Dawning kept me entertained, intrigued, and even a little bit afraid for 80 minutes, leaving an impression that has me wondering about it days later. I commend all involved for putting together a completely effective horror/drama that avoids most of the traps modern horrors slip into, and thank Mr. Holtgrewe for the chance to experience such an intelligent horror film.