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 stranger 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 lack 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.