Dawning (2009)

Description (from the IMDB):
“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.

Jonas Goslow as Chris, Najarra Townsend as Aurora, David Coral as Richard, Christine Kellogg-Darrin as Laura, Danny Salmen as The Man

Special Features:
None (Screener Copy)

Written by Gregg Holtgrewe & Matthew Wilkins
Directed by Gregg Holtgrewe

There are some flicks that divide their audiences.  You either really like them or you really don’t. As I watched DAWNING, I got the impression that this is one of those movies that some people are going to LOVE and others are not; I was on the “not” side of the fence.

DAWNING was set up really well to utilize its low budget.  There are only a total of 5 characters in the entire movie, the vast majority of the movie takes place in a single location, there’s no kids and just one animal (that doesn’t make it too far into the movie), there’s very minimal makeup, no gore to speak of; overall it’s a story that is made to fit in the budget it has to play with.  I love that.  Too many times I see low budget films that are trying to do too much with too little.   I personally am guilty of this: my flick DEFECTIVE MAN! has a huge cast list, lots of locations, silly costumes, etc., and I know that we probably would have been able to make a better movie if our scope was not so grandiose… hindsight is 20/20 as they say.  DAWNING does not suffer from this problem, it is a lean production and does not have much fat to trim, and for that I give it major kudos.

I understand that DAWNING is building suspense, I understand that the unseen can be much scarier than what’s actually shown, I understand that a movie does not have to have a particularly explicit description to still work well (as a matter of fact, I hate it when a movie just spells it out and sums it up for me at the end); what I don’t understand is when a movie builds up to nothing.  That is how I felt about DAWNING: it built and built and built up to a payoff that never occurred.  In the beginning I kept telling myself it was going to pick up, and with the attack of the dog and the introduction of The Man, it did.  Then as the suspense factor was building back up, I started waiting for something else to happen… and waiting… and waiting.  While DAWNING was going for “suspenseful,” to me it just became boring.  I waited for something that never happened, a payoff that never paid out.  By the time it was over, I was actually a little pissed that the end did not live up to the beginning (which I enjoyed).

On the technical side, I was a bit disappointed as well.  The credits say that DAWNING was shot on a Panasonic HVX200 and edited in Final Cut.  The HVX200 is an awesome camera that (usually) delivers very crisp HD video and can also record some great sound.  It records digitally, not on to tape but on to memory sticks, so generally there is no conversion needed to import the video into Final Cut.  This combo should result in a HD picture with great sound, high quality overall.  I don’t know if it is because I was watching a screener cut that had a © notice superimposed on top of the picture, but DAWNING was very, VERY digital.  By that I mean it looked like something shot on digital video 10 years ago; the diagonal lines were aliased, there were camera remnants throughout, there appeared to be no manual focus or depth of field, the color was not at all crisp and the sound was not very good.  As a matter of fact, I feel like I may have missed bits of important dialogue because the speech was way too low and the music way too high (and my screener did not have subtitles).

The directing of DAWNING was mostly good.  Holtgrewe got a good performance from all of his actors; there wasn’t anyone that I didn’t believe in this film, and that can be hard to accomplish on a low budget.  In general the shots were well composed, and there were some interesting camera angles and camera work, though there were a lot of just-your-average-shot type of shots as well.  Unfortunately, quite often people’s heads were cut off, which gets distracting when it happens repeatedly.

The lighting in the film was decent overall; they did a good job of making the outdoor shots still feel like they are in the dark while letting the audience see what is going on.  Inside the house it felt like mostly natural lighting, which is good – if you don’t notice the lights then they are working right.  DAWNING might have benefited from some more lighting to help pick the characters up out of the background; this might have been a lighting issue, or this might have been because of the aforementioned lack of depth of field.

Overall, I just was not impressed with DAWNING.  It started strong, and I thought I was really going to like it, despite the very video feel.  Then DAWNING built to nothing; it built up but never paid off, and at the end I felt like I had wasted my time.  Some people will really like this movie, just not me.

Overall 4 / 10

DAWNING on the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1530660/

DAWNING for sale: http://www.shop.breakingglasspictures.com/Dawning-853937002674.htm

DAWNING site: http://dawningthemovie.com/


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