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Dawning (2009)

Director: Gregg Holtgrewe
Starring: Najarra Townsend, Jonas Goslow, David Coral, Christine Kellogg-Darrin, Daniel Jay Salmen
Not Rated, 82 minutes

Aurora (Najarra Townsend; CONTRACTED) and Chris (Jonas Goslow) are a pair of siblings who travel to their father's cabin deep in a remote wilderness. Upon their arrival, we learn that this isn't going to be a happy family get together. Dad (David Coral) is a recovering alky who is hypercritical of his pothead son, while his new wife, Laura, is seen by the kids as an icy home wrecker responsible for their parents' divorce. The family's half-hearted attempts at having a pleasant weekend are interrupted by tragedy when Aurora discovers the family dog has been mortally wounded. If that weren't enough, moments later a crazed man bursts into the cabin. The man babbles incoherently about someone, or something, in the woods that is coming for all of them. Not knowing what to do, the dysfunctional family subdues the stranger and tries to decide their next move.

If DAWNING were to be summed up in a single word, it would be "frustrating." While director Gregg Holtgrewe makes effective use of a shoestring budget (just over 100,000 dollars) and employs a efficient visual style to build tension, he focuses too much on the events inside the cabin, and neglects the threats outside. We can't count on this family to learn much about the mysterious entity that is lurking just beyond the door, because they can't stop bickering long enough to do anything productive. Nobody is able to go for help, nor are they able to extract any information from the stranger. We are left with an incredibly vague menace that never gives us any clues as to what it might be, or if it even exists at all. The actors handle the material fairly well, but really aren't given much to work with outside the "family drama" department.

Holtgrewe ramps up the intensity in the final act using an unnerving soundtrack and some interesting visuals. However, without a compelling villain or threat to work with, the tension Holtgrewe works hard for begins unravelling. DAWNING then races to an ending that is too ambiguous for its own good.

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