Dawn of the Beast opens by telling us that in one part of the Northeast Bigfoot sightings are quite common between September 4th and October 2nd. So are missing persons reports and suspicious deaths. The locals call it Dead Month and the film’s prologue gives us a bloody example of why.
Ten years later Dr. Dennis Kasdan (Willard Morgan, Mad Cowgirl) and Oz (LeJon Woods, Tomorrow You’re Gone) lead a group of grad students into those very same woods. Even a warning from a local shopkeeper that there’s “an unspeakable evil in those” woods can’t stop them. What they find will make them wish it had.
Dawn of the Beast reteams director Bruce Wemple and writer Anna Shields who gave us the Bigfoot film Monstrous. This time they’ve added the Wendigo from Wemple’s previous film The Retreat and tossed a group of humans in the middle of it all.
This sounds great but Dawn of the Beast gets off to a rocky start. Most of the characters are annoying at best and for grad students, they’re not very smart. First, they wander off the trail in unfamiliar woods. Then they decide not to report a dead body they find because it’s obviously been there a while. A few more days won’t matter, right? That decision will literally come back to haunt them.
Things eventually do get interesting, even if they don’t always make sense. The Wendigo is a supernatural creature that explains some of the Evil Dead style goings-on. And those films seem to be as big an influence on Dawn of the Beast as any Bigfoot film. Wemple and Shields pattern the bizarre hallucinations and the way the Wendigo’s victims behave as well as the cabin under siege and survive until morning plot points from them. There’s even a creepy handwritten and illustrated book, The Forest Unseen to add to the similarities.
The costumes for both Bigfoot and the Wendigos are excellent although we mostly see the big hairy guy from the chest up. There are some well-staged and practical gore effects as well, including a body impaled on a tree branch through the skull and out the mouth and a decapitation. The fire and explosion effects at the end though were weak CGI.
Quite a few of the effects come when Bigfoot squares off against the pack of wendigos including another impalement and some squashed heads.. It’s not quite Godzilla vs Kong but it is a great scene. It left me with a question though. It’s generally stated by those who believe in its existence that Bigfoot is an early species of human. So why couldn’t The Wendigo use its powers on it?
Dawn of the Beast is a watchable and ultimately enjoyable film, but it could, and should, have been a lot better. The script needed a lot of tightening up in the first act. It needed to either get to the action quicker or actually use that time for character development. A bunch of annoying characters making stupid decisions doesn’t qualify. Wemple seems to be at his best when filming his own scripts, in fact, my favourite film of his is still Lake Artifact. Hopefully, whatever he does next he at least co-writes.
Dawn of the Beast premieres on DVD and Digital April 6th from Uncork’d Entertainment. You can check their Facebook page for details.