The newly released Mystery/Thriller, Cosmic Dawn, finds itself beached on the shores of something not unlike Horror on June 8th of the year 1997 when its protagonist Aurora, and her mother, have an otherworldly encounter with clawed extraterrestrial beings on an isolated camping trip gone wrong. As isolated camping trips tend to go. This film really begins to find its rhythm once Aurora grows up and finds herself plagued by unexplainable visions of a strange woman (who looks confusingly similar to her on-screen mother, might I add) whom she has never seen before. The woman of her visions turns out to be UFO cult leader, Elyse, of The Cosmic Dawn. These visions, along with a sequence of other cosmic connections including a strange tattoo on Aurora’s arm which we never get any context with regards to, are what ultimately lead troubled Aurora to this diverse group of individuals who all share alien encounters as well. For the first time in Aurora’s life, or so it seems, someone is actually validating her extraterrestrial encounter rather than chalking up her memories to fantasy or childhood trauma alone. It’s remarkable how far a little bit of empathy can truly go. Especially given how blatantly cult-like The Cosmic Dawn feels from the get-go.
Aurora, played by French-American supermodel Camille Rowe in her debut leading role, seems to make the leap into her new life quite effortlessly under the attentive gaze of her fellow cult member Natalie (Emmanuelle Chriqui, Entourage), whose aura of endearing warmth would convince just about anyone. Antonia Zegers plays the mesmerizing Elyse, who seeks to initiate Aurora into their hub of devoted believers. Cosmic Dawn is Zegers’ English language debut, following up a remarkably full and varied career as a Television actress in Chile. Joshua Burge plays the role of deceptive cult member and husband, Tom, who seems to have one foot in and one foot out of this way of life.
Written and directed by Jefferson Moneo, Cosmic Dawn is actually a film steeped in personal experience. Moneo has revealed that as a teenager, he was abducted by extraterrestrial beings himself, which is what inspired the concept behind this story. Interestingly enough, the language that is used (and never unpacked or explained) by the UFO cult over the course of this narrative is called Reptine; an alien language that Moneo returned to Earth with the ability to understand in his adolescence, following his abduction.
With this knowledge in my back pocket, it has become even trickier to fully understand how a film evocative of an experience so grounded in a person’s real-life/memory managed to stray as far as it did beyond the bounds of plausibility.
Not to insinuate that a film needs to present itself as realistic in order to feel successful or riveting. I do need to be convinced that the cult’s tactics would work, though, in order to be fully immersed in the plotline being offered to me as a viewer. Along that same vein, Cosmic Dawn’s sequence of events also threw me for a loop on my first watch with its consistent leaps between the past and the present as we followed Aurora’s initiation into this karaoke-loving cult. Super menacing. But in truth, who doesn’t love a solid alien tune to start the day?
Therein lay my qualm with this piece, as much as it grieves me to knock the use of ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’ in any form. Being a film that revolves around The Cosmic Dawn cult with an unknowing protagonist functioning as our sole vessel through and into this world, I expected to be initiated into this community along with Aurora as a viewer. What the experience offered instead, once Aurora was chosen by Elyse at the beginning of the film, was a narrative where I watched as this young woman was taken in by this group of eccentric people in the woods– all of whom were coming on way too strong to seem natural or border the line of seeming believably casual. As a viewer, I was made to feel like a distant observer bearing witness to the charade of it all.
This was an alien cult film, without the emotional resonance or tonality of the menacing cult-y allure that audiences have come to expect within the genre, and even look forward to. That quality of distance in terms of my perspective as a member of the audience left me watching The Cosmic Dawn frolic and dance and nurse their potted plants with a sense of cold awareness. I wasn’t in it, and their cult lost a great deal of its looming sense of danger as a result.
The Cosmic Dawn congregates on an isolated plot of land in a beautiful stretch of wilderness, in their multicolored jumpsuits. This was the first film to be shot on Manitoulin Island, Ontario at Bridal Veil Falls for that matter.
Additionally, the compound itself also gave homage to artists such as Dan Flavin and James Turrell, in its architecture and set design. The structure that The Cosmic Dawn lives within is evocative of art influences stemming from Turrell’s renowned architectural installations which have been noted within the Light and Space Movement. Similarly, the UFO cult’s home and its emphasis on colored lighting in addition to the use of orbs and arches throughout their space can be interpreted as reminiscent of Flavin’s illuminated art pieces cut from commercial fluorescent lights.
If Cosmic Dawn stands to teach us anything, it is certainly this notion of wonder engrained in the cyclical nature of things, that prevails.
This film left me shrouded in a mist of unanswered questions. It is possible that the resolution I sought was simply lost within the abrupt time jumps which punctuated the narrative.
Or perhaps Cosmic Dawn wasn’t about reaching conclusions or tying loose ends at all, so much as it was about accepting all that we do not know (which, in this case, is a lot) for the sake of reaching where it is that we were meant to end up. I guess we’ll never know.
REVIEW: If Only ‘Cosmic Dawn’’s UFOs Brought Some Answers Down With Them