Cosmic Dawn

Cosmic Dawn is a very confused movie.

On one hand, with loud stylistic flare and a fascination ofor tabloid sci-fi along with its synthesized score (accompanied by music provided by the trippy indie band MGMT), Canadian writer/director Jefferson Moneo (Big Muddy) is wanting to entertain audiences with an 80s thriller throwback.  On the other hand, it’s also a drama that could work in a contemporary light as Moneo suggests how ex-members of a cult adapt back to a common sense of normalcy.  Do these people push forward, retract back, or find a middle ground as they plan to avenge their toxic support?  These are good ideas for two separate stories, but they never come together to form a solid storyline in Cosmic Dawn.

As a piece of entertainment, it’s far too heavy-handed.  Moneo’s screenplay is light on references that date the movie’s timeline, but the overbearing use of a synthesizer along with goofy star wipes that alternate between the narrative’s past and present is like a bony elbow that keeps nudging the viewer.  Likewise for the costume and set design once our main character Aurora (Camille Rowe) sinks deeper into a collective made up of people who have been exposed to extraterrestrial life.  Aurora is invited by a charming and free-spirited book store clerk, Natalie (Emmanuelle Chriqui, giving the movie’s best performance), and is soon introduced to the secret society during a getaway to the woods.  This includes Natalie’s partner Tom (Joshua Burge) and the group’s intuitive empath leader Elyse (The Club’s Antonia Zegers).  The aesthetics of the hideaway scream of a psychedelic far gone era which is cool at first, but a few of these details go a long way.  If you thought Netflix’s Stranger Things dunked the audience into a time warp, wait until you get a load of Elyse’s crib.

As a drama, Moneo really doesn’t know what to say.  I liked how the filmmaker wanted to explore Aurora’s post-cult life because so many documentaries have been about a similar fallout or jarring adjustment (Will Allen’s terrific Holy Hell, the ever-growing Tiger King saga), and I also appreciated how Aurora’s past acquaintances hold so much baggage in their brief reappearances.  But it’s really unclear if Moneo wants to hold Elyse in contempt or look for silver lining in her creation.  Towards the end, a character benefits from the cult, leaving the film in murky waters.  Before a solid resolution can be reached, the movie ends.  It’s an ending that is oozing with style, which hinted to me that Jefferson Moneo may have been too distracted by the flare to realize the mixed message his film was giving off.

Cosmic Dawn receives the faintest recommendation from me to viewers who are itching for escapist science fiction (notably those who have been jonesing for aliens).  Anyone else may not fall under its spell so easily.


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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