When the aliens first appear in the film, the screen starts to look like a very popular Instagram filter. The sparkles and the shine coupled with the energy of Aurora’s mother’s enthusiasm towards this shimmering source of light in the skies confuse me. I had walked into this film expecting a sci-fi thriller that would try to shed some perspective upon alien abduction in a regular world; instead, I am greeted with this starlight lamp and astronomical names, for example, the bookstore called Equinox where Aurora finds her way inside, a maze that is so easy to get lost inside and difficult to find a way out. Perhaps, the audience suffers the same fate as Aurora’s mother in Jefferson Monero’s latest directorial venture, Cosmic Dawn.
The story is deceptively simple. Aurora, played by Camille Rowe, who saw her mother being abducted by aliens as a child, leads a life of drug and alcohol abuse as a young adult. She is scarily bleeding from her nose from time to time – a detail left unattended to in the course of the film. She happens to find her way into a cult known as The Cosmic Dawn in the hope of learning more about her lost mother. Whatever happens thereafter makes little sense and is sometimes laughably trippy. As the plot progressed, I found myself asking whether I was invested in the film because of the story or the beautiful natural locale of the shoot. You, too, won’t be astonished to realise that it is the latter.
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The remote island, where this cult camps, is lapped among flowing streams, dense forest, and mountainous terrain. It is beautiful, to tell the least. You’d buy the idea of the location being the perfect spot to be able to spot a red moon from. However, this natural setting is disrupted by the oddly-designed modern camp where this cult houses itself. The members of the cult wear a monochrome-coloured costume, each one flaunting a different colour, making them look like real, adult Teletubbies. If you have ever found the Teletubbies to be too smiling, then these cult members are surprisingly lost in their purpose as actors and their consequent roles in the film.
Rowe, a very popular Dior supermodel upon whose shoulders the whole film tries to bear itself up, is better performing as an adult under the sway of drugs than a person undergoing cosmic changes inside her. She is bland with a scope of improvement. The rest of the performances are mediocre too. However, I think it is the script that lets them down here. In one scene, when Aurora tells Tom, played by Joshua Burge, that she’d like to have a black coffee, Tom adds the phrase ‘…like your soul’ at the end of it. The obviousness of this dialogue is lost on me and the audience, forcing us to break out into a peal of stifling laughter if at all. Similarly, the prophecies that Elyse, played by Antonia Zegers, utters are as plain as sermons for children at the church. On the other hand, you could appreciate them for their directness, a welcome change from cryptic foreshadowing practised in most films revolving around cults.
The director’s desperate desire to establish the cult’s haunting effect on our protagonist, Aurora, borrows its inspiration from the final scenes of Ari Aster’s genre-defining horror film, Hereditary (2018). Unfortunately, apart from the seeping sparkles and strange prophecies, everyone in this cult is suspiciously creepy without any motive. The thrill is not enough even at the beginning of the film to push you to carry on watching it; by its end, it gives up on trying to thrill the audience with aliens, science, and cult-like strange rituals. The background music, however, is a saving grace. It feels like an ASMR for the soul, otherwise gasping for air under the weight of this astronomical tomfoolery.
Monero has confessed that the film has been inspired by an extraterrestrial sighting he has experienced. Through it, he wanted to establish that aliens exist; they are real. Unfortunately, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, Kubla Khan had pointed out that the image of the dome in the mind can never truly be replicated tangibly, the director’s honest intentions are far from bearing fruit. The aliens are far too human and vice versa, almost making me honestly wonder whether it is a cult or a rehab for addicts in the open. The only little detail I appreciated about it was the special alien language that the UFO cult members were using from time to time to communicate with each other.
Cosmic Dawn serves cheap thrills at the cost of a splendid opportunity to show the world a distinct insight into the aliens. Sadly, all its potentials are misdirected into generating cosmic hallucinations on the screen.