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Dawning (DVD Review)

26 Jun, 2011 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Street 6/28/11
Breaking Glass
$24.99 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Najarra Townsend, Jonas Goslow, David Coral, Christine Kellogg-Darrin, Daniel Jay Selmen.

Horror films work best when they rattle the mind as much as the blood and guts affront the visceral senses.

Low-budget (writer-director Greg Holtgrewe thanks a lot of people in the credits) effort Dawning takes the former route and delivers a terrifying story on par with indie horror classic The Blair Witch Project — in which the blood and carnage are non-existent but good luck not covering your angst-ridden eyes throughout as the psychological terror mounts.

Siblings Aurora (Najarra Townsend) and Chris (Jonas Goslow) drive to a secluded Minnesota lake cabin to spend the weekend with their emotionally distant father (David Coral) and pretty stepmom (Christine Kellogg-Darrin). The tension between the siblings and their gruff father is palpable.

Chris, the pot-smoking pacifist (his Nicaragua T-shirt begs for a Che Guevara bust), tries to break the ice (and telegraph his intension to drop out of college) giving his dad the book Into the Wild — with little effect. Aurora, when not listening to her portable music player, is more interested in the family dog than bonding with her stepmother.

Attempts at familial bliss roasting marshmallows over a campfire are cut short when the dog vanishes and shortly is found with a life-threatening injury. Back inside the tiny cabin, the father decides to put the animal down with a rifle — much to the anguish of Chris.

When a wounded stranger enters through the backdoor and threatens the stepmother, it becomes clear he is not so much perpetrator as possible victim. Common sense — typically the first casualty in horror films — is replaced with a growing realization among family members that something or someone is out there in the woods. But what?

“We’re all gonna die,” Aurora says, prophetically.

Dawning works on many levels — notwithstanding the ending — from an unnerving soundtrack, appropriately low-lighted scenes, a claustrophobic cabin and a stellar cast. Nothing about the movie is over-the-top or gratuitous, which only heightens the appeal and effect.

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