I am not sure what it is about nuns living in convents that make them such fond subjects for horror films. From nunsploitation entries such as The Other Hell and Killer Nun to more psychological offerings such as Dark Waters (1993) and St. Agatha, this subgenre covers a lot of ground. It even gets outright outlandish at times, take, for example, Aliens Vs. Nuns. Nuns also appear in fright flicks, not exclusively about habit-wearing, God-fearing women such as Haxan and The Exorcist III. Even James Wan’s horror Conjuring-universe got in on this act with the aptly titled The Nun.
Now, genre auteur Brandon Slagle throws his hat into the ring with The Dawn. Young Rose’s (Teilor Grubbs) father William (Jonathan Bennett) is a World War I veteran. His experiences during the Great War have left him unstable, and one night, he kills everyone in his family, himself included, save for Rose. The young lass gets sent to a convent and is raised by the nuns there.
“…the haunting visions of Rose tied to a bed being exorcised. She is unable to tell what is real…”
Eight years later, a now-grown Rose (Devanny Pinn) is preparing to take her final vows to become a nun officially. However, self-doubt and resentment towards her father cause her to hesitate. Then comes the haunting visions of Rose tied to a bed being exorcised. She is unable to tell what is real and what is in her imagination, so now Rose must confront her fears from the past to survive her present.
Slagle’s Crossbreed proved to be a dynamite sci-fi thrill ride, so when I saw that he directed this movie, my expectations jumped up. While The Dawn is not as good as his previous film, it is still a worthwhile effort with a few surprises up its sleeves. For one, Devanny Pinn as the adult Rose is absolutely fantastic. She is instantly likable and sells her doubts about what is (or is not) the right choice for her believably. In one particularly great exchange, a priest is explaining how each person’s flaws or vices eventually put them on a path to God. Rose unequivocally rebuts that it was her father’s sins, not hers, that put her there. Pinn suggests both condemnation and gratitude (as he is just trying to help) with her delivery in that conversation. It is tricky to pull off, but Pinn is continuously up to the challenge and never falters.
Heather Wynters, as Reverend Mother Agnes, is also quite good. Unlike in some films, she is not as cold as ice and actually has emotions. As such, her empathy for the orphans brought through their doors and concern for their well-being, both physical and spiritual, rings true. This greatly amplifies the drama and horror, and Wynters nails the right tone, while still being a bit stern. As Jeremiah, Ryan Kiser is especially creepy. When he overtly hits on Rose, it feels slimy and icky, and the two actors play it brilliantly. While only in the film for the first 10-minutes, Teilor Grubbs is memorable and sweet as the younger Rose. When talking to the sheriff after the massacre, she’s both scared but intrigued by what her future will bring.
"…I am not sure what it is about nuns living in convents that make them such fond subjects for horror films."