To paraphrase a line from Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, Judge Bill Gibron believes that if Dracula could see what is being done in his name—an example being this monotonous indie horror film—the infamous Count would never stop throwing up...BLOOD!
When Dawn was born, her father knew she was special. After all, her mother was a "hunter," a strange human/vampire hybrid that had none of the troublesome traits of her bloodsucking brethren (light sensitivity, garlic aversion, after-bite resurrections). Following a post-natal dirt nap, Daddy is left to care for his neck-biting babe. Ten years go by, and Dawn is still in need of regular vein-juice highballs. All other food is poisonous to her. Traveling around real redneck country, Dawn and Dad have left a trail of elderly bodies, since our kid creature only believes in killing those who are sick, or so old they are seeking "peace." Unfortunately, the last man she offed has drawn the attention of renowned lost pet psychic Carlton Reed. As fate, and plot convenience, would have it, Dawn's mom killed Reed's mother, and the little girl was born on the same day. Now, our preoccupied PI is acting very strange. He wants Dawn dead, at any cost. Naturally, everyone converges in the small Oklahoma town where the mayhem began all those years ago—and wouldn't you know it, Dawn's thirst (and temper) have grown uncontrollable. This final confrontation may be the one chance Reed has to stop her—or to seal his own final fate.
There's a classic lyrical line from a seminal '60s song that applies perfectly to this amazingly mediocre movie. Paraphrased, it goes a little something like this—"Dawn, go away you're no good for me." Indeed, this vampire rewrite is so dull, so unbelievably boring, that you'll wonder what writer/director/actor Jay Reel was aiming for when he foisted this no-budget nonsense on the film-viewing public. It can't be for its creative conceits. The movie is tedious and talky, overripe with narrative, and hampered by its determined anti-horror stance. By draining all the life blood out of the neckbiter genre—hunters are just mutant people who need claret, not cold cuts and cole slaw, to survive—he robs the mythology of its romanticism, its vitality… heck, of just about anything remotely interesting. In its place he ponders formulaic father/daughter issues, offers himself up as the most unlikely psychic this side of Miss Cleo, and turns his entire storyline into a collection of coincidences looking for some manner of thematic resonance to validate their fluky facets. Unfortunately, all he finds are pages and pages of dialogue, and a collection of actors who don't understand the difference between performance and merely repeating lines.
As with the sad state of zombies in outsider cinema, vampires are getting some substantial short shrift at the hands of filmmakers who feel the fiends' glam-Goth underpinnings make for instant credibility and fright flick production value. While it's necessary to save the argument over such a misguided misperception for another day, it is safe to say that Dawn would bolster the pro-bloodsucker side. Without the crosses, the garlic, the threat of inadvertent immortality, and the monster-making result of such supernatural skullduggery, we have no interest in watching a pre-teen Draculady jonesing for a vein. By analogy, would we care if an entire film focused on a child who, desperate for a Baby Ruth, put old people out of their misery so she could snatch their pocket change (actually, that does sound pretty interesting, at least compared to this fiasco)? The fact of the matter is, the whole blood angle is a gimmick, a way of distinguishing this flaccid family drama from the myriad of misplaced offerings in the independent marketplace.
Even Reel's decision to play the lead is way off the mark. Obviously suffering from some kind of ailment (the script suggests cerebral palsy) and bordering between villain and victim, we loathe Cameron Reed much more than we root for him. The connection to Dawn is tenuous at best, and clearly created for convenience, not some manner of deeper meaning.
Perhaps the biggest blunder though is the ill-defined purpose of the father character. Played with all the vitality of a vacuum by newcomer Ray Boucher, we are never sure why this man has sacrificed his life to protect these creatures. Sure, there is some lame-ass explanation about his leaving dental college after his parent's death and being saved from suicide by Dawn's droning mother (the completely irritating Mindy Raymond). But since Mr. Boucher is incapable of finding a subtext to his sorrow, or a reason for his occasionally rash behavior, he becomes the weak link in an already fragile foundation. Had Reel been able to find someone with some substantial chops, able to fill in the many blanks the slipshod script leaves in his wake (Lee Perkins is a good example) we might have something salvageable. But as it stands, Dawn's daddy is the element that causes the whole conceit to fail. While little Kacie Young gives a decent try as the title character, only Reel brings anything remotely realistic or authentic to his role. Everyone else is just plowing through the dialogue the best they can. How anyone thought a horror film without horror, a character study without characters, and a narrative without nuance could make it in the cutthroat world of fright fandom is a mystery. Instead of being the Dawn of a new vampire myth, this movie may kill the legend once and for all.
A camcorder production in its purest form, Tempe's transfer of the 1.33:1 monochrome image is decent, if unexceptional. Compared to true black-and-white film, however, Dawn's analog attributes don't hold up. Obviously given a post-production "cinematic" sheen, the contrasts are fuzzy, and there is no clear distinction between lights and darks. This is typical of tape, unable to achieve the grainy greatness of old-fashioned B&W. In fact, this is more a collection of graying gradients than a true neo noir-ish presentation. As for the audio, any movie this mired in endless chatting relies on its Dolby Digital Stereo mix to deliver discernible dialogue and clear conversations. It more or less succeeds. There is, however, very little mood or ambience to the overall effort—and without such sonic support, no horror film truly works.
Tempe does try to provide a decent amount of added content, though. Along with a gag reel, hosted by Reel and featuring appearances from several members of the cast, and a selection of trailers, the final bonus feature is a full-length audio commentary. Present for the detailed discussion are Reel, director of photography Mark Sawyer and actors Ray Boucher (Dad) and Kacie Young (Dawn). All seem really happy with the final product and offer little anecdotes about participating in such a financially-limited labor of love. Reel is especially eager to share his views on film and the numerous pitfalls that can arise during production. As a lesson in low-budget moviemaking, this alternate narrative is very interesting. It doesn't make Dawn any more watchable, however.
There will be those who view this entire effort as something of a novelty, and won't mind a few amateurish turns along the way. As long as the fright flick is new, different, and insular, they'll buy into it for a while. For them, anything involving the legendary bloodsuckers and their toothy tendencies is reason enough to rejoice. For everyone else, the message is clear: avoid this miserable mess. Dawn doesn't break new ground. It merely buries all that came before in an effort to be different for difference's sake. Sadly, such a strategy falls substantially short.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tempe Video
• Audio Commentary Featuring Writer/Director Jay Reel, Director of Photography Mark Sawyer and actors Ray Boucher and Kacie Young
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