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Siblings Chris and Aurora are adult children of divorce. They travel out to their father Richard's log cabin in North Minnesota where he lives with new wife, Laura. Tensions between daughter and stepmum start to boil, with Richard and Chris stepping in to diffuse the situation. Just when they thought things couldn't get any worse, a crazed man bursts into the cabin, claiming that his girlfriend has been killed in the woods by something, and that they are all going to die without his help. Someone forgot the axe at home.
After sitting through the latest round of independent horror films with mixed results, DAWNING gets dropped onto my desk. Directed and written by Gregg Holtgrewe, DAWNING has garnered a bit of praise from film festivals, notably the Las Vegas Film Festival and the 2009 Rhode Island Horror Film Festival, where it won the festival's best picture award. While I'd never heard of the film, I have to say that at times I'm a sucker for these types of films where isolation and group tension go hand in hand. Sure the thing's been done over and over, but when you have characters that are well-developed and are able to bounce off of one another, it makes for a fun time. But with that said, does DAWNING capitalize on what it presents?
Production-wise, the film is well-shot. Obviously, the cabin will remind you of EVIL DEAD in terms of, well, the entire film revolving around being in the cabin. The mood is obviously one of isolation and creepiness, which is pretty hard to screw up with a film set in the woods. Terror comes in the form of a slow creep as the tension between the inhabitants grows. Those expecting gobs of gore or rape from trees will be out of luck, I'm afraid. Meanwhile, those expecting a tension-filled experience will be ones reaping the rewards. Well, sort of.
Ultimately, despite the great buildup and the tension, the film flops. It's like nothing happens beyond a certain point, and despite the dialogue contributing to the feeling of tension, it fails to go to the next level. The other big knock against the film has to be it's ending, which neither works with the film that's been played out, nor does it answer any remaining questions. I don't know if this was meant to be a cliffhanger of sorts by Holtgrewe or not, but it was the equivalent of saying "f*ck it!", throwing your hands up and walking out of the editing room. Not the best way to end a picture that spends a lot of time building up its characters and tension.
It pains me to say that about the film, since DAWNING started out like something special. It is NOT a bad film. Far from it. It's just another case of great potential, so-so execution. Had the script been tooled so that it pushed beyond that imaginary line between good and very good, it would've been all the more rewarding. As it stands, however, DAWNING is a case of missed opportunity, albeit an entertaining one.
Creepy and tension-filled, DAWNING unfortunately loses the momentum it builds up throughout the majority of the film only to trip up at the finish. Still, I would give it a shot, since it's not often you get a indie film with this type of character interaction.