“Dawning” is a dark thriller that blends a story of childhood trauma with supernatural horror elements. While it doesn’t quite feel like a wholly cohesive project, writer / director Young Min Kim isn’t afraid to take risks for his film. The result is interesting, although it’s not completely successful.
Trauma therapist Jaejin Park (Kim Ellis) travels from New York City to visit her sister Soojin (Veronica Kim) on the family’s country farm in California. Soojin has just gone through a heartbreaking split with her significant other, and is appreciative of her sister coming to give comfort.
The two siblings have never really openly dealt with the tragic suicide of their father a decade earlier, and both deal with their childhood trauma in different ways. Soojin lives a life in isolation, feeling excessive resentment about being abandoned by her sister. Jaejin relies heavily on self-help books, but also suffers from horrifying night terrors. Those memories the women tried so hard to keep buried rise up during the visit, and they must deal with repressed trauma from their haunting past.
There are several secrets and twists that are revealed, and they dramatically change the trajectory of the narrative. There is so much more to the story — much more. The tone remains the same, from the extremely effective opening scene to the finale. But the horror elements fade as the film transitions into a familial drama.
The film is beautifully visualized and directed, and the cast is talented. The script is where the project stumbles. The dialogue between the two sisters doesn’t feel natural. They speak in a way that’s too rigid and clinical, which hurts the authenticity. It’s a minor criticism that’s frustrating nonetheless.
Where the film excels is as a psychological thriller that visualizes grief, trauma, depression, and mental illness. It expresses a cycle from which it’s so difficult to break free, and conveys how it is never easy to gain the courage to face a past filled with so much darkness. “Dawning” captures the difficulty of and the power in finally letting go.
By: Louisa Moore