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Monday, April 29, 2013

BREAKING DAWN -- movie review by porfle

(This review originally appeared at in 2006.)

Don't you hate it when a movie fools you into thinking it's really good by being really good -- most of the way through, anyway -- and then it suddenly tries to dazzle you with a twist ending that just leaves you sitting there thinking "Huh? What happened to my good movie?"

BREAKING DAWN (2004) is what might be called a "surprise letdown" movie, an offshoot of the "surprise ending" movie such as THE SIXTH SENSE or FIGHT CLUB, which had interesting twists that jazzed the story and caused everything that took place up till then to make a weird new kind of sense. But the twist at the end of BREAKING DAWN doesn't do that -- instead, it robs the story of the supernatural elements that made it interesting in the first place and shucks off all the questions it has raised with a simple feel-good cop-out.

The story is instantly compelling, as we see an eager young medical student named Eve (Kelly Overton of THE RING TWO) assigned the task of entering a forboding mental hospital to try and help a very disturbed patient named Don Wake (James Haven, who you may know better as the creepy Angelina Jolie's even creepier brother), who we've already seen being dragged kicking and screaming down a dimly-lit corridor by two attendants. The bloody demise of a young mother in her kitchen, seen in flashback at the beginning of the movie, seems to have been his doing although it was never proven conclusively. But this gaunt, cadaver-like scarecrow, who sits in wide-eyed catatonia when he isn't flipping out, seems capable of anything, and we fear for Eve's safety as she enters the room with him and closes the door.

This is a make-or-break final exam for Eve, who is told by her teacher, Professor Simon (TERMINATOR 2's Joe Morton), that "if you fail this, you will not become a doctor." Frustrated by her lack of progress with Don in the first few days, she sneaks into the hospital's computer and reduces the dosage of his medication. This is the sort of trick a young James T. Kirk might've pulled at Starfleet Academy, but here it seems like a bad idea. It does, however, make Don a bit more communicative. He begins to tell her things -- weird things -- about how "they" are watching, and that they're coming for him, and they'll be coming for her, too. He tells her of a little girl he once knew who was happy and full of life, but now she can't see the sun anymore because of something painful that happened to her. And he gravely tells her to beware of someone named Malachi. In a state of extreme agitation in which he must be restrained, he warns her, "Don't drink anything! Don't eat anything!" as she leaves, shaken.

Eve, of course, tries to pass this off as psychotic delusion until strange things begin to occur in her everyday life. She wakes up one night to find an old Chinese woman in her apartment who appears to be searching for something while uttering a cryptic phrase that Don had ominously spoken that day. She begins to hallucinate, seeing herself in the bathroom mirror with the same gaunt, rings-around-the-eyes expression as Don. Anything she eats or drinks suddenly makes her sick. Worst of all, she finds that she is being stalked by a dark, cloaked figure who looks like a cross between the killer in HOUSE OF WAX and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Frantically she presses Don for answers. He responds by grabbing her head with both hands and crying, "You have to feel it! You have to feel her pain!" Her mind is suddenly filled with images of a little girl running, and a young woman lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. She does feel the little girl's pain. And she knows that whatever's happening isn't just an insane person's delusion, but something real and terrifying that is taking over her life and making her doubt her own sanity. As she nears the end of her mental rope she begs Don to help her. "Break me out of here," he tells her. "I can help you, but you'll have to break me out of here."

So far, so good, right? Up to this point, BREAKING DAWN is a very creepy, atmospheric movie, with plenty of well-timed shocks that'll have you jumping out of your chair and a succession of nightmarish images to give you the shivers. The mystery of what's going on in the mind of Don Wake and why Eve is so profoundly affected by it makes you want to know more. And the story thus far has been so dark and spooky that you just know it's going to lead to a really horrific, edge-of-your-seat finale. But then, just when you least expect it, comes the surprise letdown -- that is, the twist ending. Suddenly all the mysterious stuff you thought was so dark and compelling is swept away as though it never happened. You thought you were watching a horror movie? Nope, sorry. You've been watching a feelgood movie that ends with a sunny smile and a wistful theme song.

But until the last ten minutes or so, BREAKING DAWN is a terrific horror movie. Kelly Overton is consistently interesting to watch as Eve, and James Haven is the perfect Don Wake. First-timer Mark Edwin Robinson's script and direction could hardly be better, and Ken Glassing's cinematography perfectly captures the mood of the story. I would've considered it one of my favorite films of the past year or so if it had followed through to the end without wussing out. But just like 1935's MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, which was one of the best horror movies of the 30s until the "Scooby-Doo" ending, BREAKING DAWN left me not only disappointed, but stunned by how a movie this good could suddenly skid off the road and crash into a tree with the finish line in plain sight.

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