You hear a lot of complaining about the lack of female directors in the movie world at large. Hollywood is notorious for being a guy’s club; the Academy is lambasted for being overwhelmingly white and male, and the box office is driven by big boys making big flicks for other boys in a smorgasbord of subliminal phallic imagery.
But even within the movie industry at large, genre film is the worst of the bunch. Debates about women in horror run strong and hot, like when Herner Klenthur over at Horror-Movies.ca wrote a “Ten New Masters of Horror” list without mentioning a single female director, and then had to write a follow-up statement focusing on women after strong arguments ensued online. As you can see from his list, there’s no law in nature that says women can’t make great horror movies—American Psycho, Near Dark, Pet Sematary, etc.
But all this is just a bit of background as to why Dawn, a new short film that’s part of Sundance this year, is so freaking enjoyable. I didn’t know anything about this going in, other than that it was the directorial debut of one Rose McGowan (who I later learned dated Marilyn Manson…which explains a bit) and that it was about a girl named Dawn who blows bubble gum bubbles, as the poster will show you.
I settled in to watch this thing in a New York screening room with about 20 other people: a few other “press” types, some industry people, acquaintances and who knows who else. But the one thing most of us seemed to have in common was that we had no idea what this thing was going to be about. Maybe more than a few of us were lured by the promises of wine and cheese in the PR email.
Dawn was intriguing from the opening shot—it’s a period piece, set in perhaps the early sixties with your typical strong stern Dad and overbearing, domineering poofy haired housewife Mom—and their young daughter Dawn (played by Tara Lynne Barr), who can’t help but notice Charlie (Reilly McClendon) , the absolute dreamboat hunk of manflesh working down at the pump station.
Okay, typical romance setup—but at least it’s a period piece, which is always fun. The set dressing is impeccable, the actors were perfectly chosen, and there are some good jokes in the first few minutes. Not a waste of a night, especially with wine and cheese coming up!
Then things took a darker turn. Suddenly, I realized that this was a freaking horror movie. Dawn meets two of Charlie’s friends—who tap on her window in the middle of the night, in the first sign of things being a little off with hunky Charles. But, besotten with her ideal man, Dawn misses all of the warning signs—the ominous Gothic trees they drive past, the realization that “Let’s skip the movie” might be a bad sign.
The rising tension is masterfully drawn out. Seeing the people in the seats around me get more and more uncomfortable and visibly thrown out of their security cocoons, and especially the delicious awkward silence after the film’s abrupt ending, is the best surprise a genre fan could ask for.
Rose McGowan, for her first time behind the camera, has declared that she gets the fundamentals of the genre no problem. I can’t wait to see what she does down the road, and hopefully she can add some much needed new perspective to a cherished, venerable, but insular genre.
*Dawn played as part of the Shorts Program I