With the smaller indie horror films few things make me happier than a movie that knows its limitations. I have griped about this time and again but it never gets old with me – if you can’t afford to do something in your movie then just don’t do it. Don’t try to do something just to do it really poorly. I can appreciate that filmmakers want to make an impression and want to have people see their film but too often it’s at the cost of the film itself. They try cheap tricks and poor effects and digital work and ruin anything good they had done otherwise, leaving a bad taste in the viewers mouth. Such is not the case with Dawning, a movie that reminded me a lot of Evil Dead and Blair Witch Project in the best of ways, and that is in its understanding of what it was and the power of the unexplained and unseen.
Dawning is the story of a family trying to reconnect at their cabin in the woods. The tension is obvious from the outset with an adult son and daughter harboring resentment towards a father and his new wife, a father angry at the decisions of his son, and a shadow of alcoholism that hangs over all. When something attacks the family dog in the woods what had been planned as a get away to bond the family again quickly turns to sheer horror. Already on edge, the family is beset by a dangerous stranger who tells them they are all in danger from something in the woods, something that is coming for them. While they first believe the man to be crazy, to be a madman, the longer the night goes on the more they start to watch the woods for the eyes they feel that are watching them.
An often frustrating film, Dawning is still a pretty solid chiller. High on atmosphere and never trying to outdo its budget I really love that the film plays on the horrors of what we never see. From the opening to the closing the tension runs very high here and all involved did a very good job maintaining that feeling. The biggest knock on the film though is not the vagueness of the plot but the horrible sound here. Too much of the film’s dialogue is lost due to it being too low and that really pulls you out of things. There is a lot of heavy handed acting here but none of it is outright awful. I am sure a lot of people will be upset by how vague the film is but I really like that. We don’t need to see what it is that is stalking the family because it doesn’t matter, it’s that they see it, or sense it is what matters because the reactions are done very effectively, creating a very chilling film.
A solid little scare fest, it may never blow your socks off but it’s a well done film that really creates a palpable tension and atmosphere. There are flaws here but this is a fun film and one that deserves to be seen. If you like the horror of the unseen then brother, this one is for you.
6.5 out of 10