DAWN BREAKS BEHIND THE EYES *** Germany 2021 Dir: Kevin Kopacka. 73 mins
Austrian-Sri-Lankan filmmaker / artist Kevin Kopacka’s second feature – after 2020’s HAGER – is a disorientating, multi-layered Gothic tale of entrapment that toys with everything from the Eastmancolor atmosphere of Mario Bava’s classic horror films and the work of Jean Rollin to the Manson Family and the time-warps of European genre fare like Fulci’s THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY.
Dieter (Frederik von Luttichau) and Margot (Luisa Taraz) are a childless couple stuck in a marriage of festering, mutual resentment. He’s an insecure stuffed shirt unable to overcome his bitterness surrounding her family’s wealth – and she’s a repressed woman starting to feel (and fear) the inexorable flow of time. When they stop off at the castle bequeathed to them by Margot’s uncle, Dieter spends most of the night moaning about the lack of electricity and what a stingy bastard Uncle Gottfried was, while searching for the wine cellar. She, meanwhile, seems to escape into a more enticing existence.
Co-writer / director Kopacka captures a marvellous ambience in the opening act: all dust, bats, candlelit whispers, black cats, foreboding staircases and insects – and indulges in some Euro horror sadism with strategically placed flogging and a startling moment in which a key character is pulled off…literally. The deployment of classic Gothic tropes to reflect the central themes are on the nose (“She sucks him dry”) but the cinematography by Lukas Dolgner and the score by Dusseldorf Dusterboys offer an evocative homage to key genre precursors. The second half, despite an abundance of bunnies and a trippy, melty climactic orgy, is less engaging, talky and deconstructs itself in a fashion that lacks the appeal of the accurate, beautiful pastiche of the early going – becoming more of a clever “exercise” than a film.
Review by Steven West