I have been finding so many low budget horror films lately that have really impressed me. They're all from the last few years and they utilize HD in the best possible way. A few years ago, I kept saying that HD makes movies so real looking that they no longer look like movies. For fictional films, too real isn't always good. But if it is balanced out with the right lighting and good sound design, HD can be glorious.
Dawning is a movie that has gotten way too many negative reviews. It uses HD extremely well, it carries the acting chops from its small cast and the story is original and suspenseful. It's writer/director Gregg Holtgrewe's second film. The only actor I recognized was Najarra Townsend, who is best known for television work and the brilliant 2005 film Me and You and Everyone We Know. In Dawning, she plays Aurora. She and her brother Chris are headed to visit their father and step-mother in the forest of Wisconsin. Chris drives while Aurora sleeps, and all of a sudden a figure jumps across the road and he swerves to avoid it. Aurora wakes, Chris tells her about almost hitting someone and she offers to drive. When they get to the cabin, everyone is on edge. There is a lot of family history that is revealed through conversation and it's pretty clear that everyone is still healing and dealing with ongoing pain in their own way. Aurora takes the family dog out for a walk, a few minutes later she returns without her, saying that she wandered off. The family goes to look for her and find her in some bushes, bleeding to death. This is only the beginning of the weird night. Everyone is hearing each other say things that they aren't actually saying. Much of it are hurtful and sarcastic comments. This starts the fighting and they all start airing their dirty laundry. Dad, who is a recovering alcoholic, starts drinking again. Then a mysterious man shows up. He makes his way inside the cabin and holds a gun at the family. I wont say anymore about what happens, but the tension and suspense build in this extremely unconventional film. It's part home invasion thriller and part supernatural Wendigo tale. The movie never mentions The Wendigo, but it takes place in the part of the United States where the legend comes. The Algonquians thought of it as a malevolent and cannibalistic spirit that could possess humans. Pretty scary stuff. The concept first appeared in horror fiction in the 1910 Algernon Blackwood story "The Wendigo".
Dawning is a movie that makes good use of its time. It never wear itself out, but it's only 80 minutes. The story unfolds very slowly and they never spoon feed you information about The Wendigo. I think the filmmaker trusted that his audience would get it, but unfortunately it went over a lot of people's heads. I'm not giving anything away by giving my interpretation, hopefully it will help others enjoy it more. With this information, just sit back and enjoy a film about the complex workings of a family unit that has been torn apart and now are forced to co-exist in a confined space. This brings to mind Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water (1962) which uses the same feeling of isolation and terror. Only Dawning puts it all on dry land and adds a nice supernatural element to the terror.