Monday, April 12, 2010

By the Dawn's Early Light

dawn8 With an extremely low budget of just over one hundred thousand dollars, Dawning tells a very simplistic story, but it is one that is filled with intense character development created by a family stricken with inner turmoil. Director Gregg Holtgrewe (who also co-wrote with Matthew Wilkins) uses his budgetary limitations positively to craft a film that does what many films with much bigger budgets lack, and that is characters with depth. The film centers on Chris (Jonas Goslow) and Aurora (Najarra Townsend), two siblings who take a late night trip out to a secluded cabin in the woods to visit their father Richard (David Coral) and stepmother Laura (Christine Kellogg-Darrin). Right off the bat it's clear that the family suffers from a troubled past, but it is a troubled past that many of us can very much relate to.

They are a family that has gone through a divorce, causing a slight rift between both Aurora, Chris and their father, and they are doing their best to ignore it. Richard is also a recovering alcoholic, and while it is not clear as to the implications of his past drinking problem, it is very obvious that it was and still is a problem for the family. These issues begin to surface when the family dog goes missing, only to be found wounded deep in the woods. Much to the chagrin of Chris and Aurora, Richard decides the best thing to do is to put the family pet down to relive it of its suffering, even forcing a reluctant Chris help him do so.
It's around this time that things take a frightening turn for the family when a stranger (Danny Salmen) breaks into the house and holds them captive. The stranger, who has clearly been physically harmed, claims that there is a force out in the woods, a force that killed his girlfriend and means all of them harm. Now, the family is forced to deal with a man that might be out to hurt them, and the possibility that there is a threat lurking in the surrounding woods. Is he crazy, or is he telling the truth and what should they be afraid of?

Dawning's premise, in a nutshell, is just that and for much of the film; the family is divided as to what to do in the situation with which they are faced. They are forced with the possibility that the dawn5stranger could harm them, but if he is telling the truth, there could be something much worse. This brings about and expands the parallels of each character that was slightly hinted to before things went awry. Personal demons, past family trauma and a lack of trust all collide and come bubbling to the surface as the family is put in this dangerous situation.

This is a film that keeps from explaining exactly what is happening to the family and the stranger, but there is a threat, and it is never made clear as to what that threat is. What was somewhat clear, to me is the family and their lackdawn6 of stability may have something to do with their unknown antagonist. I will not get into my theories as to keep this review spoiler free, but it was something that I found to be very interesting.

While it may move a little slowly for some, It's nice to have a low budget film make up for it's lack of money for special FX and cheap scares, take the time to focus on the characters and their interactions with one another. Many of us can relate to this family as they have problems that are universal, and the mixture of their family drama and threat at hand are done very well. All of the actors do a convincing job portraying what is somewhat heavy material, and I think that part of it may come from the relatable subject matter.

Dawning is a film that burn's slow and keeps things simple with it's great cabin in the woods location, minimal characters and basic premise. It is a well-made film, low budget or not, and looks quite impressive on all technical fronts with decent lighting, tight editing and nice camera work to convey a terrific sense of atmosphere. There is solid tension throughout as the family are never sure what’s exactly causing all of this to happen, and the rift between the family members only builds upon that tension. Having such complex and deep characters is what makes Dawning a great little independent horror film that stands out from the pack, and I can only highly recommend seeking it out.

If I really like an independent horror film, or any independent film for that matter, I will always push as many people to see it as possible and this would be the case with Dawning. So I urge you to check out the film's official website for more info. Also, baby eater extraordinaire, Cortez the Killer, did a fantastic interview with the movies director, Gregg Holtgrewe, over at Planet of Terror some time back, so make sure to check that out too.


  1. Glad you liked it Matt. I loved its simplistic style and focus on character development. And the fact that you make up your own mind about the threat (I have a couple of theories as well), I think, makes for a far more effective and engaging film. Its truly a remarkable film. I'll (hopefully) be screening it in Dallas sometime this summer. Wish me luck.

    Thanks for the shoutout as well.

  2. Sounds very interesting,definitely want to check this one out

  3. POT: Yeah, it was really solid and the focus on characters and their interactions was really key in this film's success. And you are welcome for the shout-out, but thanks for pointing this one out to are an independent genre film warrior!

    Erik: It is due out on DVD on the 16th of this month from what I know...definitely worth checking out if you are down for good character development and atmosphere.

  4. Very nice, I have seen it making the rounds lately on the scene, so I cant wait to check it out once it sees a release!

  5. Yeah, I think if you read the reviews, you know what you are in for as far as the type of film it is and you should certainly enjoy it, Carl.

  6. The 16th..sweet,I will definitely have to try and find this one...maybe best buy

  7. Not sure if it will make it to Best Buy, but there is a possibility. If I find out where you can find it, I will be sure to let you know!

  8. Thanks,definitely want to watch this one somehow.

  9. Definitely one of my top favorites of the year so far. I would love to meet Gregg someday and pick his brain.

  10. Yeah, that would be cool...curious as to where a lot of the inspiration for the characters came from and how the actors handled it. I hope Dawning gives him a little boast and gets another film made with some more money.

  11. Thanks for all the great conversation everybody, I'm really glad the film has people talking. I'd be delighted to chat about the film anytime you guys want, I'd like to be as open as possible for conversation, etc...Thanks again!

  12. Thanks for the great movie, Gregg. I may take you up on that in the future and I wish you nothing but major success!


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