It’s always darkest before the Dawn.
Cosmic Dawn introduces us to Aurora (Camille Rowe), a young woman who witnessed the alien abduction of her mother as a child. Plagued by the experience into her adulthood, Aurora has always sought answers for her experience. When Aurora meets alien-devotee Natalie (Emmanuelle Chriqui), she suddenly feels both validated and heard. When Natalie invites Aurora to join her at a meeting of a group devoted to the mysterious book ‘Cosmic Dawn’, Aurora accepts and is immediately drawn to the groups charismatic leader Elyse (Antonia Zegers). However, as she becomes more intimately acquainted with the group and its practices, Aurora becomes increasingly suspicious that this may not offer the spiritual fulfillment that was promised.
Written and directed by Jefferson Moneo, Cosmic Dawn is a weird and wild venture into the world of cultic beliefs. With its emphasis on the bizarre, Moneo effectively leans into its crazy and ethereal colour scheme. Complete with star-infected spiritual experiences, the film fully leans into the campiness and bizarre antics of its cult practices in the best of ways. What’s more, the sci-fi sets in the underground bunker make the film almost feel like an episode of the original Star Trek series of the 1960s. In doing so, Moneo highlights the wildness of the cult’s beliefs yet somehow makes it feel an almost welcoming contrast to the grittier tones of everyday life.
Where Cosmic Dawn struggles at times comes through its editing. By weaving between two timelines, Moneo is able to provide context to the events unfolding within the compound. However, the way that things are structured, sometimes events feel less shocking and more confusing. (For example, by introducing characters in the future timeline, it somehow feels anticlimactic in its reveal of them later.)
In terms of the film’s performances, the cast of Cosmic Dawn are often engaged and entertaining. However, the strongest work here may stem from Chriqui as the dedicated (or deluded) believer, Natalie. Charismatic in one moment and borderline terrifying the next, Chriqui fully leans into the passionate devotedness of her character and she’s frequently a joy to watch onscreen.
However, Dawn’s greatest strength lies in its dissemination of belief. Without targeting any faith system, Moneo uses the narrative to explore what drives one to believe in things that lie beyond what we can see or understand. Taking situations from various religious groups, Cosmic takes a pragmatic look at the way people interact with their faith. From sporadic moments of worship to communal meals together, Moneo eyes religious practices with a moniker of skepticism. Speaking about the bizarre spiritual returns of lizard people, the film suggests the dangerous nature of dedicating one’s self to something that can’t be proven through scientific inquiry.
However, at the same time, there’s a certain sense of validation of faith that exists with the film as well. Repeatedly reminding the viewer that ‘things are not as they seem’, Dawn always maintains the possibility that—maybe—all this religious devotion is not in vain. Whether or not the viewer feels that the ‘cosmic cult’ is worth trusting, there is little doubt that the impact on the lives of its devotees remains (mostly) positive. While her dedication can be terrifying, Elyse is also fully committed to her beliefs. Feeling as though she’s encountered the stars themselves, Aurora’s life is changed for the better from her experiences at the compound. Even Tom (Joshua Burge), though he rallies against Elyse’s teaching doesn’t seem to be able to fully distance himself from them.
In this way, Moneo successfully manages to simultaneously both question and validate manners of faith. Although it frequently challenges the practices themselves, Cosmic Dawn ultimately becomes a film that acknowledges the legitimacy and power of belief. Without being able to fully trust in what’s to come, these devotees of the Cosmic Dawn have (usually) been changed for the better through their experiences. (In fact, Moneo manages to keep the questions regarding the truth behind their beliefs until the film’s final moments.)
For Moneo, fervent faith matters if it matters to you.
While it may not always work due to some issues with its structure, Cosmic Dawn’s conversation about faith has enough for the viewer to unpack to keep it engaging. Leaning into the film’s quest for more, Moneo recognizes that the practices of faith can be strange at times. Even so, he also suggests that the eccentricities of faith are no reason to dismiss it, especially if it offers hope to those involved.
To hear our conversation with writer/director Jefferson Moneo, click here (podcast).
Cosmic Dawn is available in theatres and on VOD on Friday, February 4th, 2022.