A widespread fear drives home invasion films: someone breaking into your house with cruel intentions. But what happens when an injured stranger stumbles to your doorstep, pleading for your help against their ruthless kidnappers? Do you let them in? If you had no cell service and you were at a remote cabin, would you still offer the stranger refuge?
“You have to invite them in,” says Lulu (Drew Mitchell), the wounded and hunted protagonist who shows up at the doorstep of Dylan’s (Kelcey Watson) isolated cabin. Not far behind are three killers desperate to get her back in their devilish grasp. What follows is a twisted home invasion thriller with a deep appreciation for the sub-genre.
In Dead by Dawn, director Sean Cain collates dark subject matter with self-awareness. Being in the middle of a home invasion with a blood-stained woman, a gun-wielding stranger, and three nefarious killers lurking right outside, the circumstances are dire. There’s no time to think about morality, there’s no help nearby, and there’s no cell service.
“Dylan feels compelled to help the young woman against her vicious kidnappers.”
Dead by Dawn opens during the crossroads of the invasion, wherein either the inhabitants kill the intruders, or the intruders kill the inhabitants. A brawl between two men ensues as they both reach for a kitchen knife, and a woman is swinging a log at someone else. But before the Home Alone-esque invasion commences, Cain takes us back before any of this chaos began.
Lulu is a cheerful young artist with a controlling boyfriend named Shane (Bobby Slaski). Lulu and Shane plan on going to a Halloween party together dressed as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. This not-so-subtle inkling depicts Shane as a virulent boyfriend and Lulu as a naive girlfriend embroiled in a toxic relationship. Before leaving for the party, Shane rips Lulu a new one after he finds college admission papers that imply Lulu wants to complete her art degree. After being slapped by Shane, Lulu rushes out of the door and summons a ride-share driver. One man already let her down, but to her surprise, there are even more disgusting men out there. Lulu is picked up by a creepy driver who finds lecherous pleasure in Lulu’s company.
As Mario Salvucci’s moody score gradually gets louder, and the camera gets higher, the night is overtaken by daytime suburbia and the surrounding landscapes. Slowly, we follow as the car drives into the adjoining woodlands. Clearly, Lulu is not going to her intended destination. In a seamless transition, a different vehicle comes into focus.
"…want nothing more than to bask in the company of these deliberately eccentric murderers for hire..."