The car stops at a secluded cabin, and another man, Dylan, steps out of the automobile and reminisces the good times he had at that exact cabin with his daughter and wife. His suffering from grief and emotional pain means Dylan is prepared to take his own life. That is until Lulu stumbles onto Dylan’s porch, covered in blood and bruises. Dylan feels compelled to help the young woman against her vicious kidnappers.
The set-up in Dead by Dawn is innately intriguing, as it provides a long-suffering protagonist. Chances are, she’ll be impelled to defend herself and her dignity. Employing an arsenal of shrill screams, unrhythmic sighs, and mournful gazes, Drew Mitchell enlivens her character’s fear and agony. As Lulu’s bruises become more telling, the more disheartening the actual situation becomes, especially considering she was sexually assaulted by someone she may or may not know. A convincing Kelcey Watson plays the dejected and suicidal Dylan, the directionless man who finds purpose by helping Lulu against the trio of sadistic freaks.
Speaking of cruel men, that’s where the film indulges in highly-colored personas. Bo Burroughs’s Neil is the capricious and reckless leader of the trio. Jamie Bernadette’s Snack is the beguiling, pliable, and blood-hungry love interest of Neil. She wears a faint, sly smile that radiates her inner insanity. As it turns out, Neil and Snack were hired by the third one of the group, and a grim reveal causes the circumstances of the home invasion to become all the more disturbing. In taking this route, Dead by Dawn shoddily handles the short-term and long-term implications of this betrayal, let alone the history behind it.
“…strives to explore cases of sexual assault and toxic masculinity without tonal control.”
I want nothing more than to bask in the company of these deliberately eccentric murderers for hire and their forthcoming demise. Yet, Sean Cain strives to explore cases of sexual assault and toxic masculinity without tonal control. On the one hand, the villains are knowingly inflated and silly. On the other hand, the protagonists — a kidnap victim and a man contemplating suicide — can be stand-ins for the human impulse to continue on in the face of adversity and hopelessness. That said, the script’s thematic, unpleasant, and more mordant threads are left tangled.
Cain’s Dead by Dawn is unabashedly entertaining, and it goes to show you how a life-and-death scenario can push you to be creative or proactive. Yet, a lack of tonal direction debilitates what’s fueling Dylan’s selflessness and Lulu’s crux of anger and thirst for vengeance. Together, Lulu and Dylan set up a series of traps for when the vile killers make their way into the cabin. It’s all fun and games until Cain isn’t able to reign the topics of suicide, assault, and revenge into a consistent vision.
That being said, the woodland setting is deftly exploited, as daytime slowly turns into night, showing the agonizingly sluggish passing of time as Lulu and Dylan are stuck in a remote cabin with no cell service. However, Dead by Dawn doesn’t wholly embrace its violence or absurdity, or its grounded reveal of familial horror. Even so, the familiar layout and the likable protagonists keep the film breathing.
"…want nothing more than to bask in the company of these deliberately eccentric murderers for hire..."