Dawning is a film that is simple in set-up: take an estranged family, throw them in a cabin out in the middle of the woods at night, introduce a stranger who brings warning of an unknown force that is after him, and watch the tension unfold as they hole themselves up in the home and argue over the next course of action. But it’s all the ‘little’ things that really make the film the ultimately terrifying experience that it is.
From the get-go, the woods themselves play a vital role in creating an environment that is really enveloping. If you didn’t know any better, the family may have well been stranded on their own private island. The minimal lighting during filming helps to a certain effect but it’s the actual setting out in the woods of Northern Minnesota which really lends itself to creating this sort of constricting feeling. In speaking with the director, this particular setting was intentional. The woods in that area are incredibly dark at night, so much so that oftentimes you can’t see an inch in front of you. He wanted this kind of consuming feeling mixed with anxiety to unfold as you watched the film. What better way to achieve this than to set the film in the deep dark woods at night as, inherently, its enough to frighten even the hardest of individuals.
Moving from woods to cabin, your growing feeling of no way out for our onscreen characters is furthered. Just the very nature of the cabin itself (it’s tiny, narrow hallways, etc.) accomplishes this task but it’s heightened to such greater effect with the angles that writer/director Gregg Holtgrewe employs. In a way that recalls Hitchcock, most notably Psycho and the parlor scene with Norman and Marion in particular, the camera positioning within the house and the way that it focuses on our characters recalls the same sort of ‘closeness’ employed by the legendary director which places you front and center. You feel as though you are experiencing everything right along with the characters. And the fourth wall definitely felt like it was going to be broken on more than one occasion.
With such a stripped down setting and approach, none of it would be made possible or believable if wasn’t for a great cast that really projected a sense of genuine fear and dread. This helps with the unexpected arrival of the intruder for sure, but it’s the reaction to the unseen force and presence which really preys on your mind. Thumps on the roof of the cabin, strange hissing noises emanating from the cabin phone, combine with other events and it’s the characters reactions to them in a very believable way which causes uneasiness within the viewer. Ratcheting up the tension even more is the coming out of long held grudges that are deeply rooted in the psyche of our family. Old wounds open as frustrations mount which only serves to heighten the anxiety level of us, the viewer.
All of these elements add to an ultimately terrifying movie watching experience. And it drives you batty as the viewer as you maddeningly (in a good way) try to figure out what it is. Dawning is one of the best independent horror films that I’ve had the pleasure of watching in the past few years and proof positive that original story telling and smart filmmaking isn’t dead.
The film will see a DVD release sometime this fall. For more information regarding the film, check out its website: http://dawningthemovie.wordpress.com