Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dawn – review

dvdDirected by: Jay Reel

Release Date: 2003

Contains spoilers

Often you watch a low budget movie and inwardly groan, sometimes that groan takes on an external life of its own and sometimes, just sometimes, you realise that – despite all the limitations of a shot on cam, no-budget flick – you are watching a little gem that rises above its limitations.

This is no budget and doesn’t really feature an actor (most of the players have only been in this film and from what I can gather were locals roped into the roles) but it tries to do something interesting with the genre and it has, shock upon shock, a story.

Kacie Young as DawnThe film begins with nine year old Dawn (Kacie Young) in bed asleep and she is restless. We cut through to nightmarish images and, when she bolts awake, her voiceover diary tells us that they are in Texas and the nightmares are getting worse. We see a touching father, daughter moment with John (Ray Boucher) that ends in a tickle fight, but a faint reaction from Dawn indicates that it has been too long since she has eaten.

Ray Boucher as JohnThey head on out of the motel, towards a lake. On the drive we discover that Dawn’s mother, Sarah (Mindy Raymond), died at childbirth and that Dawn is more like her than her father. We also get the idea that Dawn has been self-tutored by John whilst they are on the road. At the lake he passes her baby wipes and she removes teeth caps (we later discover that he went to dentistry school) and reveals fangs. She can feel someone in pain and John arranges to meet her later.

Dawn leans in to feedShe goes into the woods and finds an old man (David McCartney) with six months left to live due to cancer. He knows what she is but is confused as it is daylight. She explains it doesn’t work like that and he thanks her before she feeds. She is cleaning him up when two men approach and she runs. In the woods she gets angry and repeatedly punches a tree, cutting her knuckles, before she gets back to John who runs her to a restroom to clean up.

a nightmare sequenceDawn is scared, she is almost ten years old but the nightmares she suffers are getting worse. We see one where strange creatures attack her in the car that has blood pouring down the windows. She really wanted to attack the two interlopers at her feed, hence hitting the tree to calm herself. Luckily she heals quickly. John believes that it is just a manifestation of her instincts and that she can fight them.

Jay Reel as CarltonMeanwhile Carlton Reed (Jay Reel) has attended the crime scene of her last feed. He was a cop and suffers from muscular dystrophy. It is not his disability that took him off the force, however, but the fact that his mother (Peggy Bozeman) was attacked and killed by a vampire. Later we discover it was Dawn’s mother, just before she gave birth.

a psychic visionCarlton is psychic and is using his powers to track down the vampire. The vision scenes are really quite well done using negative effects with the film stocks. He decides that, as it has been almost ten years, he will return to his home town Laverne Oklahoma. Dawn, meanwhile, has asked her father to return them to Laverne for her birthday, so she can visit her mother's grave in the woods.

Mindy Raymond as SarahThe way vampirism is done is very interesting. Most of what we discover is via Sarah and John’s back story. Vampires are a different order of creature. They have been around since pre-historic times, feeding on humanity. They are physically stronger than a human, they can sense the old and dying and they can only feed on blood – human food is poisonous.

Sarah dies after giving birthAs far as Sarah was aware her pregnancy was the first ever cross-species impregnation. She was also aware that childbirth was likely to kill her as it killed her mother. There was a slight logic glitch here as one wonders what the child vampires subsisted on if their mothers all died giving birth, John is able to feed Dawn formula for the first three months at least but in the dim and distant past vampire fathers would not have been able to find formula milk. Perhaps the dying at childbirth was a glitch in respect of Sarah and her mother.

They are constantly fanged and tend to live a nomadic life, there are very few vampires left. What Reel has done is made vampirism a metaphor for alienation due to physical difference and it works rather well with Dawn at odds with her nature and wishing, above all else, for a normal life. He also brings an aspect of acceptance and love that sees beyond the obvious issues of morality.

messy eaterAs I said there are not really any actors in the film in a professional sense, these are ordinary folks asked to be themselves in extraordinary circumstances. By doing this Reel ensures a more natural feel than we get in a lot of low budget films. Young has the most demanding role as Dawn and is charming throughout, with perhaps the advantage that she only had to play a 9/10 year old, unlike a lot of child actors who play vampires as adults within a child’s body. Boucher is weaker as the father and, whilst not terrible, is often carried in scenes by Young.

victimThe use of black and white photography adds a starkness to the film but also manages to disguise the worst excesses of low budget filming and the editing is excellent. The ending is somewhat dark and shockingly unexpected.

This is a low budget gem as we really do care about the characters, the story draws us in and the ideas are fairly fresh. All in all this deserves 5.5 out of 10, floating above average and probably deserving of a remake with some form of budget – the only trouble with that is a budgeted remake might destroy its inherent charms.

There is a trailer available here.

The imdb page is here.

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