2018 | DIR. JUSTIN PRICE | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
The level of care put into technical elements is crucial in sci-fi, and what the team behind THE DAWNSEEKER manage to pull off is impressive given their budget constraints. While this may at first seem to contradict what I said above about visuals being irrelevant, the achievements here truly complement Price’s worldbuilding. For instance, the production design in early scenes aboard a spaceship is suitably creepy; while the plot ultimately bears a closer resemblance to Predator than Alien, I’m convinced that it also could have succeeded with an extended homage to the latter. Meanwhile, the cinematography is arguably the film’s greatest success, particularly during an unexpected and thrilling sequence set during an eclipse. The dynamic shift from light to dark is accompanied by a sudden energy as the eponymous alien creature attacks the human characters, the viewer is weaved throughout the battle to underscore the chaos (while thankfully not disorienting them). Even when day breaks, it’s a credit to Price and cinematographer Khu that the tension remains.
Although THE DAWNSEEKER itself looks more silly than scary, I found that it remained an unseen threat often enough to feel like a suitably intimidating antagonist. This is helped by Price’s script utilising some familiar sci-fi thriller tropes: of course the crew of mercenaries on an unknown planet would split up, and it goes exactly as well as you’d expect, but it’s incredibly satisfying to watch. I also enjoyed Franziska Schissler’s performance as de facto mercenary leader Fenix, even when the character’s backstory became unnecessarily convoluted. After seeing Schissler’s convincing portrayal of stoic strength here, I’d love for her to take on a scream queen role in the future.
Nevertheless, THE DAWNSEEKER’s highlights succeed in spite of poor decisions, particularly in Price’s script. The dialogue is overall laughably bad, which becomes glaringly obvious during certain drawn out death scenes. In fact, once action shifts to the alien planet most dialogue-driven scenes feel too long, drawing focus away from key questions such as how the planet’s natural resources have been exploited in the past, a tantalising plot thread that is introduced but feels unresolved. Due to this lingering through the second act, the film’s ending feels abrupt and unsatisfying; I’m genuinely unsure if the ambiguity was intended to leave room for a sequel, but it left me with the impression that what I’d just watched was missing parts.
I’d love to see Justin Price try his hand at sci-fi again based on the potential shown here, even in a return to the same universe. However, the oversights in his script leave Schissler and the production value responsible for the film’s success, and it therefore seems likely that additional input would be needed for the world to show significant growth or improvement. Although THE DAWNSEEKER is ultimately left feeling like a proof of concept, I’d suggest it to any sci-fi buff looking for a quick and easy watch.