Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft…



The entrancing strangeness that Jefferson Moneo’s Cosmic Dawn centralizes is ultimately unable to maintain its mental grasp, but when it has you, it has you.  

Steeped in eerie UFO-ology and adjacent cultic interests that were not uncommon in the 1970s, Cosmic Dawntakes us on a trippy trip into a secluded encampment where abduction survivors congregate and do their things.  Things such as bodily purging, poultry-centered meals for every meal, and singalongs to songs about spacey space.  The persistent electronic thumping score by MGMT is a primary factor in cultivating the sometimes-frightening hypnotic quality of the film itself.  By the time they sing Klaatu’s 1976 flowery ode to the otherworldly, “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”, we’re moved to join in.  Which is rather scary, considering that this is a deranged UFO cult we’re, in essence, joining in with.  Moneo, though, seems to be challenging our assumptions of “derangement”.

Playing the leader of the Cosmic Dawn cult, the mysterious Elyse, and stealing the movie in the process, is the beguiling and very memorable Chilean actress Antonia Zegers.  Cosmic Dawn owes an incalculable debt to Zegers’ diamond-eyed performance, as vampiric as it is Jim Jones-y.  Her followers are a colorfully jumpsuited few (this is clearly a very low-budget outing), spanning in age and ethnicity.  The newest recruit, and main character of this movie, is Aurora (Camille Rowe), a young woman around thirty or so who, as a child, saw her mother get abducted by an intensely bright spacecraft.  She knows what she saw- so did we, at the very beginning of Cosmic Dawn– and though her subsequent abandonment and doubt has led her to a life of drug use and detachment, the traumatic experience of losing her mother has of course never left her.  

Lured into a fascinating old bookstore, Aurora meets the friendly shopkeeper, Natalie (Emmanuelle Chriqui), the first person to recognize her condition and take her under her wing.  But, as is so often the case, strange things are afoot in the back room of the ol’ bookstore.  It is in this musty and forgotten storage area, my friends, that the Cosmic Dawn-ers gather for their motivational get-togethers, and karaoke nights.  (Mercifully, we are spared any of the latter).

All is not easy from here on, as the narrative begins to liberally time-shift back and forth, “four years later”, “four years earlier”, “four years later”… and then not even bothering with the captioning.  It is in these four years that Aurora loses whatever trust she had in Eylse.  Or does she?  Moreo definitely plays into our own skepticism about the cult, if not UFOs themselves.  That, though, brings us to the horror footing of this whole thing…

It’s been said that the most frightening horror stories are told by people whom we suspect aren’t right in the head and could very well inflict their narratives with extremity.  Who is Jefferson Moreo, and is he really as all in on this alien abduction transcendentalism?  His commitment to otherworldly visual effects and evocation of infinite headspace indicates “maybe!”.  But while his tight commitment to his vibe is a big strength, he needs to work on maintaining interest.  By Act III, my attention was adrift, hoping for the best for Aurora, and still curious as to what Elyse’s endgame might be… but also increasingly checking out amid the pulsating drone of it all.

Moreo, in his playing of real-world mustiness and doubt against the UFO cult’s assured glittery glowing transportive ways, succeeds in crafting Cosmic Dawn as an unsettling experience.  We don’t know what’s out there, and neither do most of the characters in this movie, but if we’re watching a movie like this, odds are that some part of us wishes upon the stars for life beyond our world.  Cosmic Dawn, though quite narratively strained, indulges such fancy with a galactic infusion of dread, on a very small, intimate scale.

Cosmic Dawn comes to us courtesy of Cranked Up Films, the outfit that previously yielded the impressive horror movie, Double Walker.  The only extra features on the disc are trailers for the company’s few films, and various audio mixes.  Cosmic Dawn, though, boasts terrific visuals and audio, making for the kind of immersive experience that the filmmaker was obviously going for.  The ominous VFX pop while the MGMT score rightly resonates.  Fans of science fiction-informed horror should be interested to bring this shiny disc in for a landing.