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First Look Review - COSMIC DAWN

cosmic dawn review
A young woman finds herself drawn to a UFO cult.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Jefferson Moneo

Starring: Camille Rowe, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Antonia Zegers, Joshua Burge, Phil Granger

cosmic dawn poster

Looking back, one of the sweetest aspects of the otherwise awful 1990s was the na├»ve enthusiasm we had for conspiracy theories. Not only the curious, escapist nature of how we questioned the status quo in that decade, but also what we believed they were actually keeping back from us back then. Today the conspiracy theory is mainstream and toxic and anything but a bit of a laugh; it is people beating the shit out of each other in Trafalgar Square, it’s something to do with paedophiles and pizza, it’s the horrible credence of Epstein’s island. Back then we watched The X-Files and had earnest conversations about how much shady government depts ‘actually knew’, we read 'The Invisibles' and squinted at aerial photos apparently taken of Area 51. Congruously, the tackier end of pre-millennial rave culture went hand in hand with the newly enthused stoner ufology; catalysed by the illusion of mind expansion which ecstasy offered and the sense of counterculture engendered by the music, the dayglo mise-en-scene and lava lamp iconography fitted the extra-terrestrial zeitgeist like a Kappa tracksuit. Take me to your dealer, yeah?

cosmic dawn review

In an early scene, writer/director Jefferson Moneo’s Cosmic Dawn recognises this bygone synchronicity. After a charmingly ramshackle scene involving a little girl witnessing her mom being abducted by aliens in some backwoods, we catch up years later with said kid as an adult raver about town. All glitter eyes and thrown shapes, the sequence features Aurora (Camille Rowe) in an underground nightclub lit like the set of Mandy. A bloke, who in his mirrored shades and ‘tache looks like he should be in the venue down the road with the rest of the Cruising extras, tries putting one on her. Mineshaft gives her a white tablet, and she becomes immediately ‘loved up’, suddenly imagining her suitor as Bossk'wassak'Cradossk off Star Wars. Inner space/outer space: woah.

cosmic dawn review

Is the lingering trauma of the third kind contact which has seemingly doomed Aurora to a life of going out and dancing now presenting in clumsy hallucination, or is she being galactically stalked? After waking up in hospital and rushing off in a fit of rattled pique, Aurora seeks sanctuary in a second-hand book shop wherein she happens upon one of those big glossy ‘Encyclopaedias of the Unexplained’ we’d all pore over in the school library on rainy dinner times (another pleasingly nostalgic touch). She lets off some steam to the teller, who, having seen her coming, reaches into the recesses of the shelves and gives Aurora the hard stuff of a book written by a practising UFO cultist. Aurora goes home and notices that she has a prominent tattoo on her forearm which matches one of the esoteric diagrams in the tome. When I say ‘notices’, in the film it is unclear whether Aurora is simply observing the similarity between her ink and the drawing in the book, or if she was previously aware of it but has never been inclined to investigate what it is, or if this indeed is the first time she has noted the hand drawn black circle on her skin. Anyway, she ends up joining the cult.


After a promising opening, the confusion intensifies: title cards tell us that we are ‘Four Years Later’ and then ‘Four Years Earlier’ and then back again. Sometimes this happens within moments, with no discernible aging of Aurora, which is very fortunate considering she is a full-on caner (a deathless interchange in the film: ‘How long have you been using drugs?’...’Since I was born’-!). We stick with Aurora’s time in the cult and the period that she has extricated herself from it, with the plot hinging on how authentic the sect is, and just how sinister they may turn out to be.

cosmic dawn review

Is writer/director Moneo filming from experience? His imdb biography makes bald reference to his own alien abduction (along with boasts concerning ‘trademark clothing’ and familial links to Sitting Bull, making for a very entertaining bio), so perhaps Cosmic Dawn is a valuable document which contains important truths concerning institutions and people from other planets. As pop cultural entertainment, however, like its main character it loses its way. Early on it becomes fairly clear the distribution of the low budget was unevenly frontloaded, so any hope of aliens showing up disappears into jejune, repetitive camera trickery designed to express Aurora’s fractured mindset. There are some colourful sequences, and if you were to watch Cosmic Dawn in a state of artificial relaxation (or if you are from the '90s) then there is an increased possibility you might get more out of it, but for the rest of us it may turn out to be a bit of a cosmic drag.

Cosmic Dawn is in US cinemas and on VOD from February 11th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.



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