Dawning - New Release Review
Director: Young Min Kim
Starring: Kim Ellis, Una Kim, Veronica Kim, Vyvy Nguyen, Felix Park
Written by: Young Min Kim
Produced by: Jason Chao, Young Min Kim
Cinematography by: Tim Toda
Original Score by: Alex Winkler
A trauma therapist is forced to face her family's darkest past when she returns to her childhood countryside-farm to console her heartbroken younger sister.
'Dawning' mostly plays out like part family drama part psychological horror with a supernatural twist and with a few notable exclusions it hits the mark in every aspect. Great to look at. Fantastic central performances. Beautiful music. And when it needs to be scary it absolutely delivers.
Kim Ellis plays Haejin Park, a therapist whose latest patient triggers some unwanted memories from her troubled past. One that involves the suicide of her father, as we are alluded to in the opening sequence. Crippling guilt for not doing more to stop her fathers death still weighs her down and she suffers from debilitating night visions. There's a scene early on where she is in bed frozen in fear staring at her bedroom door that keeps opening ajar slightly. It's incredibly tense and a perfect example of how to execute a scary scene without showing too much.
Haejin decides to take a short vacation to visit her sister Soojin at their old childhood farm in California where Soojin still resides. Soojin has recently split from her abusive boyfriend and has some of her own demons to address. The sisters are a little estranged and haven't kept in touch as much as they probably should since the incident with their father and Haejin's departure. Despite this the two embrace lovingly and pick up where they left off all those years ago. Kim uses these early scenes to explore themes of jealousy and abandonment and actually we could've used an extra five minutes of runtime to delve a bit deeper into these spaces. But all is not what it seems and as any really great horror film should do, the plot slowly unfolds and there is more going on here that meets the eye.
'Dawning' is Young Min Kim's feature film directorial debut and he also wrote the screenplay, which is a bit crazy considering how well the film plays out. Kim has been in the industry for a few years working as a compositor in visual effects on huge blockbuster films like 'Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw', 'The Batman' and a few of the MCU 'Spider-Man' entries. Clearly Kim has gained lots of experience working on these massive projects although 'Dawning' couldn't be farther from them in terms of scale. That doesn't hinder the quality of the film at all. With most of the film focussing on both sisters, it's really a tragic family drama with the hint of a ghost story gliding through it. Kim does an excellent job of keeping all the spooky stuff grounded whilst still managing to create some nail bitingly, creepy scenes, which are elevated by the sound design.
The dialogue is a tad clunky at times and the ending drags a bit, perhaps trying to explain a little too much. It's also a bit tropey too but overall Young Min Kim has created and delivered a fantastically haunting debut that lingers on after it's remarkably short runtime. Seek this out if you can.
- Gavin Logan
'Dawning' streams exclusively on Screambox on January 31st.