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Cosmic Dawn


Mark 2

This film reminded me of both The Endless and Midnight Special. All three films concern protagonists escaping a cult they formerly belonged to, but Cosmic Dawn’s plot more closely resembles The Endless: years after escaping a quasi-doomsday cult in the remote wilderness, the defector returns to discover whether the cult’s claims are true. But, like Midnight Special, special effects hinting at the nature of the cult’s mystery are sprinkled throughout the movie, and our protagonist finally arrives at the answer to her life’s persistent question in a special effects-laden conclusion. Amid various obstacles, The Endless in particular suffered from two key shortcomings: an apparent lack of budget and a sloppy script. Both problems are found in Cosmic Dawn.

Central characters are not developed enough. Our protagonist wants to learn the truth of a mystery from her childhood, so her research into a local cult, and her subsequent seduction by its leader’s message, is only natural, but it’s glossed by too quickly to be narratively satisfying. The beginning of her main story feels slow, which disguises how briskly it glides through her enticement by the cult. She is clearly unnerved by their creepy behavior from the very start, but she joins them anyway simply because the plot needs her to. The film needed to spend more time here, presenting the cult with more reservation before slowly peeling back their veneer of kindness. As it stands, our protagonist joins the cult despite all her dialogue and body language expressing how uncomfortable she is around them.

Only one supporting character is given any substantial development. This is our obligatory member who is dedicated to serving his peers, but is nevertheless skeptical of their claims. We are given just enough information for him to be an unreliable ally for the protagonist: he is rational enough to see through the cult leader’s manipulative words and actions, but he is conflicted by his own relationship with the group’s beliefs. Yet, the movie tips its hand far too soon as to where his true loyalties lie. When we arrive at the moment where a key decision he makes should be tense and unclear, the audience already knows what he will do. No doubt means no suspense.

Beyond the protagonist and this one supporting character, we have: the protagonist’s main companion in the cult; a distressed outsider relative; the cult leader herself; and, a few others. These characters are paper thin, most of them completely forgettable. This isn't to criticize the actors; I thought they all did well with the material they were given. What they had was just too scant.

The music, featuring several MGMT songs and partly scored by one of the band’s members, carries most of the weight in helping the film find its tone. Except for the soundtrack and a couple of characters, the lack of anything firm for the viewer to latch onto permeates every other element of the movie. The set design is bland and uninventive. The cinematography starts off very shoddy, having the appearance of a cheap made-for-TV movie, though it does improve within the first half hour. While there are some fantastic visual effects—magical, even—they are used very sparingly. When the movie most needed to indulge in these effects, we first see an incredibly dated ‘plastic wrap’ filter, the sort overused by someone who is only beginning to learn how to use the video editing software found on their home computer. The effect is perpetually in motion, a constant distraction during the narrative climax. For a story entirely concerned with a protagonist seeking resolution to the mystery of her youth, the non-answer conclusion is undercut even more by the poor visual choice.

Cosmic Dawn—as was the case with The Endless—could have been vastly improved with a larger budget and a script doctor. It has an interesting enough take on the idea of a UFO cult, but it’s buried under so many shortcomings: the plot isn’t spooky enough, the sound mixing occasionally drowned out dialogue, scene transitions are sometimes accompanied by a distracting audio cue, etc. This is a movie I want to like, but there are too many flaws to look past.