Written by: Matt Patti | April 6th, 2021
Dawn of the Beast (Bruce Wemple, 2021) 2 out of 4 stars.
Bruce Wemple has been on an interesting track, recently. The New York City-based director has taken the helm of several creature-features as of late. Last summer, his Bigfoot thriller Monstrous was released. Then, in November, he released The Retreat, a horror film centered around the mythical Wendigo creature. Now, only five months later, Wemple features both creatures from his previous two projects as Bigfoot and the Wendigo share the screen in Dawn of the Beast.
The film follows a group of graduate students who go on a trip into the forest with a professor who aims to find proof of Bigfoot. Amongst the group is the nerdy, awkward Chris (Adrián Burke), who cannot stop telling dad jokes and quickly gets on the nerves of the others. Also present is his girlfriend, Marie (Francesca Anderson), who clearly dominates the relationship and easily gets annoyed with Chris, as well. On their quest to gather evidence of the United States’ most popular mythical beast, they run into something they hadn’t accounted for: another legendary creature, but one that is rarer and more mystical … the Wendigo. Now, the group is stuck in the middle of the forest between two dangerous beings. Can they possibly make it out alive?
While Wemple’s previous two entries into the genre have focused on an intriguing plot with creatures in a supporting role, Dawn of the Beast puts its beasts front and center. Wemple fixates on the horror aspects of this film, and as a result delivers in that department. He uses the exact same unsettling, terrifying design for the Wendigo as he did in The Retreat, and it is still mostly effective, although it would have been a bit more refreshing if he changed it up a little bit. The film is filled with many jump scares, but they’re all mostly genuine and earned thanks to satisfying suspense that leads up to them. Disturbing imagery and creative shots also contribute to the onslaught of terror.
Unfortunately, while I can say that this film for sure frightened me at points (which I do not say very often), it fails in almost every other aspect. The characters, outside of Chris and his girlfriend Marie, are all your stereotypical horror-movie archetypes and are completely forgettable. Most of the performances in the film are quite poor, with the exception of Burke’s performance as Chris, which is passable. The writing doesn’t help the cast out, as the on-the-nose dialogue leads to awkward line delivery. The film also suffers from poor score choices, such as a ridiculous techno track playing during a fight scene. The film is very predictable throughout, as well, and an experienced horror aficionado will easily predict what’s about to happen next. The conclusion of the film is its best part, by far, but even that is overstretched and drawn-out with unnecessary fluff extending the runtime.
Overall, my feelings about this film are very mixed. While the horror aspects are done quite well, the plot, characters, performances and writing all disappoint. Chris does have some surprising development by the end of the film, but he is the only character in the film with anything remotely resembling an arc. The conclusion of the film challenges typical horror norms, which I found refreshing, but unfortunately it is not enough to make up for the film’s shortcomings. Fans of Bigfoot and the Wendigo may be intrigued to see them share the spotlight in the same film, and the film can definitely be enjoyed as a disposable horror film that will give many viewers some quality scares. In the end, however, Dawn of the Beast does not live up to the potential that a Wendigo-Bigfoot combination could be capable of in a feature film. I’d love to see the idea explored again inside of a more compelling story.