The Horrors of Mental Health Aid in the Dawning (PANIC) of One Family
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Young Min Kim
Writer: Young Min Kim
Runtime: 73 Minutes
Starring: Kim Ellis, Veronica Kim, Una Kim, Felix Park
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Panic Film Festival in 2022.
Trauma therapist Haejin Park (Kim Ellis) rushes home at the suspicion of a family emergency. When she returns, she finds her sister Soojin (Veronica) in a dejected but overall stable state. As the days bleed into one another, Haejin suffers terrifying nightmares stemming from the dark events of her childhood. She must face the traumas that shaped her head on if she has any hopes of reconciling with the demons that live on in her mind.
Mental health and horror collide in Dawning, an intimate and painful examination of familial trauma.
What starts out as a promising soft psychological horror film devolves into standard fare. The cast is intimate, and the setting is appropriately creepy, but the script is weak with very little new ground broken in its realm. Some of the reveals feel deceptive, as there is little chance to reflect and come to those conclusions. More care could have been implemented into the film to make its conclusion feel earned. Otherwise, it falls victim to predictable plot developments for this subgenre of horror with little added to the cannon.
The central conceit of Dawning asks how deep trauma can go to change the course of one’s life. Coming to terms with it can be difficult but it is necessary not only for an individual’s healing but others that also experienced that trauma second-hand. Uncovering the difficult truths of her past is the only way for Haejin to move forward with her life. Going further, Dawning explores abuse and silence within families and how they specifically interact to cause a lasting impact on the unit. The Park family have been shattered by the events that played out so many years ago, and their inability to truly accept this has pushed Haejin to this limit.
It is appreciated that the “aha” moment at the end, doesn’t necessarily include a gotcha for the cause of that abuse. It plays out realistically, if unsatisfying from an empathetic point of view. It also must be noted that these conversations are also intrinsically tied to the Asian American experience in Dawning, with very specific concepts of family dynamics and expectations tied into this. This is the most novel and interesting aspect of the film.
Unfortunately, the twist it throws in the face of its audience sours the film. The revelation that Soojin died by suicide instead of her father and that Haejin has been hallucinating her visit with Soojin this entire time feels like a relic of late 90s and early 2000s horror without the punch. Whatever fresh air the film is breathing deflates as soon as it went down this route. It doesn’t take away much from the deeper meanings behind it, but it is a tired take.
Lightly paced with a more balanced amount of suspense, this muted horror film is competently made despite its wanting script. Unsettling imagery is scattered throughout the film to maintain a sense of danger. Small explosions bursting out of the earth and characters scrunched over scurrying to dig beneath the dirt in between the orchard trees are particularly great examples of the film’s reliance on creepy visuals to set the tone.
Another entry in the psychological supernatural thriller subgenre of horror, Dawning paints a realistic portrait of how trauma lives inside of you for years. More unsettling than outright scary, Dawning adds the concept of sideline trauma to the greater conversation of how events help form us, especially at younger ages. While Haejin did not experience any direct trauma, what transpired clearly affected her life in ways that will stay with her forever. That’s what makes Dawning a thrilling but also cathartic experience. Unfortunately, the overuse of mental health horror tropes, along with some overall production issues, spoil this one especially by its final act. It isn’t perfect, but if you make the realization that family horror or mental health horror is up your alley, Dawning might be for you.
Overall Score? 5.5/10