Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Strong on style and remarkably assured."

A short film that has been making a big impression, Dawn marks the directorial debut of Rose McGowan, and a very striking debut it is. Strong on style and remarkably assured, it tells a simple story that leaves a lingering impression.

Tara Barr is the eponymous heroine, a good girl in rural Sixties America, her family strict about keeping her on the right side of the tracks, clipping her wings in a way that makes her all the more eager to fly. When she catches the eye of a handsome garage attendant (Reiley McClendon), what has passed between them is obvious, even without words. Later, he turns up at her window. Will she go outside with him and his friends? Not the first time, she won't; her folks would be mad. But he persists, and she's tempted, and the film hovers in that awkward place between romantic first love and unfolding terror, where everybody seems to be out of their depth.

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Barr is perfectly cast, at that age where in one shot she looks like a flirtatious adult and in the next like a vulnerable child. Where McGowan excels is in telling this "cautionary tale", as she describes it, without stripping Dawn of her agency; indeed, the implication is that had she been permitted more agency she might be able to exercise more control. Her sexuality is clear in the pop of her bubblegum and the way her eyes linger, but she knows how to say no; she's just painfully under-equipped for what's coming. As is the viewer.

Visually, the film mixes iconic American kitsch with distancing effects that send a chill down the spine. Long, slow tracking shots and theatrically framed scenes add to the sense of unreality as Dawn's world expands. The effect is complemented by the formalism of the whitebread pop in her record collection, the small neatness of domestic interiors, and then, emerging like a dream, the unknowable openness of a long, lonely road at night. We've been to these places before, but McGowan makes them her own. The resulting confection is a wholesome looking all-American slice of mom's apple pie, laced with cyanide.

Reviewed on: 24 Jul 2015
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Dawn is a quiet young teenager who longs for something or someone to free her from her sheltered life.

Director: Rose McGowan

Starring: Tara Lynne Barr, John Grady, Hannah Marks, Reiley McClendon, Michael Moskewicz, Julia Sanford

Year: 2014

Runtime: 17 minutes

Country: US


Sundance 2014

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