A teenage love story turned slow-burn thriller, packing a delightfully wicked, ironic punch.
Dawn (Sundance Review)
Rose McGowan’s debut short film, Dawn, is a surprisingly original and well-executed revision of a 1950’s teenage romance gone terribly awry. The film opens with our quiet protagonist Dawn sitting in the back seat of a car, getting hassled and badgered by her combative mother and disengaged father. Pulling into a gas station, amidst a brief pause in her mother’s nagging, Dawn turns in time to see a young gas station attendant smiling kindly at her. Charming with his classically American good looks and manner (a sort of cross between Joaquin Phoenix and John Wayne), the film begins with the apparent moral purity of Andy Griffith at Sunday School. Yet when the fated lovers finally meet face to face, the story suddenly takes a much darker turn.
The film is shot in a sort of High Southern Gothic-style, and draws heavily from Flannery O’Connor’s short story A Good Man Is Hard to Find, about a family’s encounter with a well-mannered serial killer in Georgia. Indeed, in a post-screening Q&A session with the director, McGowan stated her original intention was to make a film adaptation of O’Connor’s original text, before the rights were pulled out from underneath her at the last instant. But the upshot of this was perhaps for the better–the film that was produced boasts a strong literary basis yet an original plot line. Dawn makes an interesting parallel to Blue Jasmine, another recent film that makes an adaptation of an older text (in the latter’s case, A Streetcar Named Desire). The works are distinct in-and-of themselves, yet anyone familiar with the earlier texts will make the connections and benefit from an enriched experience of the piece.
Besides these literary aspirations though, McGowan’s film goes well beyond thematic adaptation–her portrait of Dawn as a naïve girl, caught between her own sense of danger and unease and the submissive, “easy going” gender-role that ultimately destroys her, makes for a wickedly dark lesson. This subtext, paired with clever references to the Hollywood culture present at the time, makes for a much more nuanced narrative than one might expect from so a short thriller, ostensibly about teenage love. The film is bitingly ironic, yet still manages to pull it off with tact and ease.
This was a real gem of a short film. Dawn‘s salient literary and cultural references, paired with the film’s high production value, gorgeous shots, its slow-burner buildup and gripping conclusion, bring something to the table for everyone, and portends an excellent directorial career for Ms. McGowan. Something else interesting to know is that McGowan’s first feature length film, a satire about murderous reality show competitors in Miami, is apparently in the pipeline. There’s something I’d keep my eyes open for if I were you.