Review: ‘Dawn’ (2014)

Norwegian film has come a long way. Ever since the silent era, it has regularly been compared with the cinema of neighbouring countries Sweden and Denmark, and usually came up short. The craftsmanship behind filmmaking appeared to be neglected by too many filmmakers, and in the 1980s hit rock bottom when a film festival in Skien was declared a total failure and a seminar panel at the event dismissed Norwegian filmmaking. The early 1990s witnessed films of such low quality that NRK produced a documentary called Why is Norwegian Cinema so Bad? in an attempt to mock the genre films of Norway. This is not the case anymore. The Norwegian cinema of the past two decades has grown into a respectable, artistic, and innovative cinema. Films such as Insomnia (1997), Headhunters (2011), Kon-Tiki (2012), Trollhunter (2010) and In Order of Disappearance (2014) have had both domestic and international success, and have shown that Norwegian cinema is on the rise. 

Dawn follows in this trend of high quality and artistic Norwegian cinema. Soon to be released, the film is off to a promising start after being selected for the Bergen International Film Festival and the Reykjavik International Film Festival. This is the first feature film to come from Anders Elsrud Hultgreen, and he rejects the beautiful fjords and snow-capped mountains we have come to admire in Norway for a desolate, broken and isolated world. Tense, ritualistic, and gritty, Dawn is a science fiction film set years after the global fall, where water is sparse and polluted.

The story is minimal. We follow two survivors of the apocalypse who eye each other with suspicion as they journey through their broken and empty world. One of them, known as Rahab (Torstein Bjørklund) has been undertaking ritualistic behaviours, and the other, Set (Ingar Helge Gimle) is a curious onlooker. After Rahab promises a clean source of water, the two journey together in hopes of coming across the resource free of pollution. The story and pacing in itself is similar to the work of Nicholas Winding Refn, in the best way possible. The slow pace has similarities to such works as Valhalla Rising, where the Odin-like character played by Mads Mikkelsen wanders a desolate Scottish landscape while taking pilgrims to the promised land. Despite the slow pace, Dawn is able to suck its audience in, and leaves you hanging on to every word.

This is not a film you watch purely for the story. The way in which the Icelandic landscape has been turned into a hazy and moody desert is well worth watching the film alone. Landscape has always been a key part of Norwegian films, and Hultgreen has taken this element and turned it into something fresh and new. The titled angles, purple colouring, and wide shots contribute to the concept that this is an unbalanced and empty world. The actors remain cold and almost expressionless throughout the entirety of the film, which creates a sense of hopelessness and isolation. All of these beautifully crafted elements combined creates a science fiction film that both compliments and expands on the genre. The story shows a well-researched concept on ritualistic behaviour and futuristic ideas that contribute to making the story believable. Overall, Dawn is a realistic science fiction film that creates a sense of beauty through isolation, and shows that cinema can indeed be used for works of art. This is a fresh addition to the world of Norwegian cinema, and shows that the country’s films are on the way to becoming world-renowned. 

In Short:

Dawn (2014), the debut feature by Anders Elsrud Hultgreen, is a science fiction journey through a desolate post-apocalyptic world, where life seems rare and the water is polluted. The film is minimal in plot and beautifully crafted, overall creating a tense, gritty and realistic experience. 

Watch the trailer here: https://vimeo.com/105875357

View this film on IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3702658/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

View this film at the Bergen International Film Festival

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.