Home Video Hell
Home Video Hell is where filmic outcasts—straight-to-video, straight-to-VOD, or barely released—spend eternity.
The condemned: Dawn Of The Beast (2021)
The plot: This is a barebones production of a movie in which Bigfoot and the Wendigo come together for a showdown. That is the whole reason for this movie to exist, and yet somehow the filmmakers decided not to call their movie Bigfoot V Wendigo: Dawn Of The Beast. It’s like they learned nothing from Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice: You put the title fight right there in the front, and then “Dawn Of” whatever nonsense you want in the subtitle. “The Beast” doesn’t gets its dawn, any more than “Justice” did in that DC superhero film, so the least they could do is let everyone know the purpose of this thing.
Still, for those who decide to forge ahead with watching the film, the plot is remarkably awkward for such a seemingly simple premise. After an opening sequence in which a couple staying in a remote cabin is set upon by some mysterious creature (accompanied by a strange supernatural presence), the opening credits roll. Then we jump ahead 1o years, to a group of clumsily introduced grad students accompanying their professor and TA (at least, I think it’s a TA) for a weekend trip into the Northeastern woods region with the greatest number of Bigfoot sightings. This is for a cryptozoology class, see (they’re all taking it for an “easy A,” as one of them explains—you know, your usual Master’s program with people just taking random classes as though they were coasting through an undergrad degree), and they’re going off the grid for the duration, because we need a reason for the lack of cell service, even if it makes no sense.
The three students—Lilly (Anna Shields), Jake (Chris Cimperman), and Isabella (Arielle Mastroianni)—are accompanied by Isabella’s new boyfriend, Chris (Adrian Burke), because student trips with professors in grad school always welcome additional non-students for no discernible logic. After Jake and Isabella stumble upon the skeletal remains of a body (more on this later), Isabella pockets a jewel necklace she finds—and that night, as they all hole up in their cabin, strange things start to happen. Chris goes outside and is grabbed and knocked unconscious by a massive creature, while Isabella and the professor, en route to the nearest town and cell service, crash the car after Isabella has a vision of the professor as a dead ghoul. He’s ripped apart by some monster, and she has another vision, then is supernaturally lifted into the air and has her neck snapped by an unseen force. So far, so inexplicable.
Meanwhile, Lilly is kidnapped out of the cabin by a guy who turns out to be the dude we saw in the opening. It seems he’s been trying to get revenge on Bigfoot all this time, and plans to use her as his latest bait to try and flush out the monster. (People continually refer to Bigfoot as “Squatch” in this film, including the actual credits, despite never once using the term “sasquatch.”) So when the next morning comes and only Jake and the TA, Oz (LeJon Woods), are left in the cabin, they’re understandably a bit confused. As is the audience, who—if they’re anything like me—are wondering how the hell the filmmakers are going to fill the rest of the running time, since it’s only been a half-hour at this point, and most of the characters are either dead or kidnapped.
Only, it turns out that’s not true! Not only is Chris alive and well, having survived his encounter with Bigfoot (Oz: “Trust me, Chris, if it wanted to kill you, you’d be dead. It was trying to warn you”), but Isabella has somehow come back from that neck-snapping, though she’s acting mighty strange, leading the others to the professor’s body and muttering about how she’s “so hungry.” The group quickly puts together that they’re being hunted by the Wendigo and its spawn—people who have been possessed by it, sort of, and transformed into ravenous beasts—and decide to try and survive the night hiding in the cabin. Which is a bad idea, of course, what with Isabella slowly turning into a Wendigo spawn herself. Soon enough, she’s killed Oz and Jake, Lilly has escaped her captor, returned to find Chris panicking, and the two of them attempt to flee. That’s when the Wendigo and its brethren arrive, Bigfoot shows up, and the cage match that’s been brewing all movie long finally occurs.
Or, at least, you’d think that would happen. (Spoilers here, for anyone who genuinely doesn’t want to know how Dawn Of The Beast ends. Are you planning to watch it? I would not recommend that!) Instead, Bigfoot just grouchily slams roughly a half-dozen Wendigo spawn into trees (it might be the same shot, repurposed a half-dozen times, I couldn’t tell), impaling one, stomping on another—all while the damn Wendigo just stands there impassively, watching as his brood gets its collective ass kicked. Then, as the score swells and Bigfoot roars, the Wendigo… goes away. Like, it just fades out, as though the creature suddenly realized what movie he was in, and wanted to exit as quickly and diplomatically as possible. I’m surprised there wasn’t a deflating balloon added to the sound mix, or possibly a sad trombone.
After Lilly dies (presumably of Dawn Of The Beast-related shame) and the Wendigo Irish goodbyes, Chris is left as the lone survivor. In the morning, he’s forced to kill the possessed Isabella and the similarly now-possessed guy from the beginning, who decides the final minutes of the movie are the right time to offer up the backstory and exposition on what he was doing in the opening minutes. The film ends with Chris being given a ride back into civilization by the same local townie who warned the group about the woods when they first arrived. Irony!
Over-the-top box copy: There appear to be DVD copies of Dawn Of The Beast available for purchase on Amazon, which is odd, because I was told by the distributor that none existed when I reached out about reviewing this movie. (Perhaps they, like the Wendigo, would prefer to quietly disassociate themselves.) Nonetheless, the cover listed only includes the tagline: “The legends are real… and they kill.” I’m not convinced a single DVD has been produced, however, because I can’t find any evidence online, such as what the back cover looks like. Every listing just shows the cover as art, not an actual DVD case. The plot thickens.
The descent: The silliness of the whole “Bigfoot versus Wendigo” premise is what caught my eye, but a little digging reveals a whole cryptozoology cinematic universe. The director, Bruce Wemple, made two films the year before this one came out. One was called Monstrous, about a woman who goes looking for her missing friend only to stumble into Bigfoot territory, and the other was The Retreat, about a man who ends up lost and alone in the Adirondacks and forced to confront… the Wendigo. So this film is sort of a sequel to both of those movies, but also not really: Some of the same actors appear in two or even three of the films, but as completely different characters. And there’s no clear indication of when any of the movies take place relative to each other. So this is just the particular cinematic playground that Wemple likes to stomp around in; we should all be so lucky as to find something we love and then just stick with it.
The theoretically heavenly talent: There’s nobody in the main cast you’ve heard of. If you’re curious, Anna Shields, who plays Lilly, wrote both this and Monstrous, Wemple’s previous Bigfoot film. However, those earn a 3.7 and 3.8 out of 10 on IMDB’s grading scale, respectively, whereas The Retreat, which Wemple wrote and directed himself, earns a 4.2. Just saying.
The execution: Unfortunately, this is one of those “Where to begin?” situations. Dawn Of The Beast doesn’t really succeed at being a scary movie, but that’s largely because it doesn’t really work as a movie, period. It’s got one of the worst, most jarring sound mixes I’ve heard in quite some time, and much of the action is incoherently staged and edited. DOTB is a typical amateur-hour production where, for example, someone will be tied up and trying to escape their bonds, when suddenly the film cuts to them running away. I guess they got out.
The biggest offense against logic, however, is what I will refer to as the “magic cabin” problem. We get multiple establishing shots of this remote cabin in the woods, and it’s a pretty standard-sized little retreat. Yet numerous times over the course of the film, something loud and violent will happen just inside the front door, or the back porch, or upstairs, and no one else inside will have heard a thing. I gradually came to realize that this cabin has some sort of House Of Leaves-esque situation going on, in which the inside is much, much bigger than it looks on the outside, and that the different rooms and floors are not just soundproof relative to each other, but possibly existing in different dimensions from one another. It’s the only way to explain events like this:
Plot-wise, the mechanics of how, exactly, the Wendigo’s powers work are confounding. In the opening sequence, the woman appears to be mesmerized (or however you want to put it) by the Wendigo, saying, “It’s inside me.” Yet then she’s dragged away and killed, which you would think goes against Wendigo’s whole “transform those I possess into flesh-hungry spawn monsters” plan. Especially since later on Isabella also delivers the “It’s inside me” line, but then proceeds to waver back and forth between normal, scared human and evil-possessed cannibal, but never once in danger from the thing that is already “inside” her. Except, it already snapped her neck before any of that happens. Huh? Did he re-set the bones with his powers? Help me out here, I’m not up on Wendigo social behavior.
Effects-wise, the movie is a strange admixture of exactly what you’d expect, combined with some surprisingly decent-looking creature CGI here and there. Bigfoot himself is pretty silly, resembling a grouchy Harry from Harry And The Hendersons. But the Wendigo clan are actually kind of unnerving and cool at times, though sometimes that’s just because the sound mix on the jump scares gets cranked up to a cartoonishly loud degree, just to ensure you’ll startle regardless of the effectiveness of how it’s shot. Still, the occasionally creepy monster appearance helps to offset goofy stuff like this look at a digital device’s oh-so-helpful clock screensaver.
Nonetheless, there’s lots of nice little moments of unintentional comedy (and a few decent intentional ones, as well). One of my favorites comes early on, when Jake, Isabella, and Oz stumble upon a little pile of feces, and Oz pokes it with a stick, peers at it, and immediately announces with confidence, “It’s Bigfoot.” Or take this dialogue exchange, which manages to go from dull to hilarious in exactly the time it takes for Oz to utter yet more of his bizarre expository rantings.
For most of the movie, Oz is basically a sentient Wikipedia page for the plot. But he also gets to set things in motion via some truly unjustifiable arguments. You may recall I mentioned a moment early on when Oz and Isabella stumble upon the skeleton of the woman from the opening sequence: Rather than calling the police, Oz insists they don’t tell anyone until after the weekend trip, because otherwise they’ll all have to go home. You’re not required to go home just because you find something terrible in the middle of the woods and report it to the cops, Oz! That’s not how field trips work! Even more devoid of reason is his claim that they shouldn’t tell the professor about it: “The less he knows, the better.” I kind of doubt that, Oz. But at least he doesn’t do what Isabella does, which is wait until the others leave, then steal the jeweled necklace from the corpse’s body. That might be the moment I wrote down, “Who are these sociopaths?!”
But none of that prevents the laughs from coming easily. To wit: Please enjoy this scene, in which Chris has just accidentally made a noise and alerted the Wendigos searching the cabin to his presence, so he races to escape, and the music swells and things get tense as he… frantically turns the crank on a window to slowly open it:
And they’re not all unintentional moments of comedy. Credit where credit’s due: This is a pretty good gag, in which Isabella is lying in bed, and the lights keep switching off to reveal a pair of eyes staring at her from across the room, but when she flips them on again, there’s nothing there. Suddenly, the digital pad next to her bed starts talking, and it turns out to have a Siri-like function, which we learn when it suddenly awakes as though from a voice command, and chirpily announces, “Sorry, I couldn’t find any results for ‘kill and consume the flesh and blood of the others.’” It’s funny, and even a little unexpectedly chilling:
Likelihood it will rise from obscurity: Nil. Quirky chuckles will only take you so far, and the rest of Dawn Of The Beast doesn’t contain enough meritorious stuff to sustain it in between sporadic guffaws in the face of its sheer ridiculousness.
Damnable commentary track or special features? If only. I would love to hear the Wendigo’s explanation for why he took off before the movie was over.