Nightstream is a collaborative virtual film festival that started in 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It continues this year and is being presented by the Boston Underground Film Festival, Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, North Bend Film Festival, and The Overlook Film Festival. Proceeds from the festival go to the filmmakers and also to several charities. I highly suggest checking out their website for more info on the event. A variety of films include feature-length productions and shorts are scheduled. The following review contains spoilers, so reader beware!
Cosmic Dawn is an alien abduction story mixed with a new-age cult. It begins with a flashback of Aurora’s mother being abducted after a lunar eclipse. Beautiful kaleidoscopic lights and a reptilian arm appear briefly. It then cuts to Aurora, now an adult and attending college. She’s clearly dealing with a lot of trauma. On her arm is a mysterious tattoo or marking of a black circle with several holes, resembling a screaming face. After collapsing outside of a club (Flashing lights warning for this scene), she awakens in the hospital with her aunt by her side. The doctor asks her questions and mentions her mom. While her aunt maintains she simply died, Aurora is firm that she disappeared. She gets upset and leaves.
Lots of blur and slowdown are used, both to show Aurora’s altered mental state from drugs and to give it a dreamlike quality. It’s as if she’s floating through her life and not quite sure where to go. After seeing a mysterious woman (the same one she saw before she collapsed earlier), Aurora enters a bookshop run by Natalie who recommends her a book titled Cosmic Dawn by Elyse. It’s both a religious text and about UFOs—sparking her curiosity and desire to know what happened to her mother.
Accosted by strangers who seem to know who she is, Aurora meets the author of Cosmic Dawn and her group, who all have had encounters with UFOs. It is, most definitely, a cult. But they also like to do karaoke, so that’s cool. Elyse tells Aurora how special she is and everyone is overly friendly.
She’s then invited to a remote compound in the woods, having to take first a car, then a boat for a fair distance. Everyone wears colored jumpsuits and pins of the screaming face. There are also giant rock formations shaped like the tattoo everywhere and Elyse claims they are ancient monuments created by witnesses–those who have had UFO encounters. The entire compound is soft whites with pastel lighting and plants everywhere giving it a relaxed tone. As she meets everyone living there, Aurora reiterates she is “just visiting,” not staying. But they wear her down. They are preparing for the return of the aliens and their diet and activities are supposed to help with this. My brain was screaming run, run, run! the whole time. It’s a perfect example of how cults can get to a person. She’s completely isolated, there are no phones, there is an armed guard outside, and she’s watched at all hours.
Elyse recites scripture from Cosmic Dawn to the group, clearly running the show. At breakfast, she reads: “To the witnesses, it was said: There will be wonders in the heavens and signs on the earth. The sun will return to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and glorious day when They return.” Their common prayer, the equivalent of “God Be With Ye” is May You Reach The Dawn.
Tom, Natalie’s husband, makes Aurora a smoothie for her cleanse that makes her vomit. He does not hold the same beliefs and tells her things are not always as they seem. When she asks him why he is even here, he says it is because he loves his wife and wants to support her. Tom seems to run the kitchen and can be seen usually standing behind everyone making a skeptical face at the proceedings.
Throughout, light electronic music plays that fit the film perfectly, with the majority of the songs by MGMT. Scene transitions are accompanied by a retro sci-fi jingle and soft screen wipes. It’s the little things that really add to films like this.
When she arrives at the compound, they give her a plant. After the flower blooms, Elyse conducts a ceremony with Aurora eating the petals and going into a psychedelic trance, seeing the cosmos around and inside of Elyse. It’s quite a beautiful sequence! The next day during breakfast, Natalie’s father and Aurora’s aunt arrive to rescue the two women. Natalie, having had some sort of seizure and claiming the visitors are speaking with her, passes away during the chaos. Enraged, her father shoots and kills Elyse. Upset and confused, Aurora leaves with her aunt. Rob also makes his escape here.
These scenes jump around back and forth with Aurora living with the cult to the time after she’s returned. Her aunt is now in a wheelchair after being shot during the rescue. She has occasional visits with Tom, but once she finds a USB hidden in his house with video footage of an apparently alive Elyse, she decides to kill her. Rob reluctantly agrees to go with her. Once there they discover everyone is waiting for them, and that Rob tricked Aurora.
Elyse is alive and leading a prayer. She tells Aurora she is sorry for not seeing it earlier, that Aurora is in fact the chosen one, and not Natalie like she originally thought. They read from the book of Cosmic Dawn as a lunar eclipse begins. A portal, shaped like the face, appears over the edge of a cliff. One by one they all enter and disappear. At the last moment, Rob turns to Aurora and tells her again “things are not always what they seem.” His eyes turn reptilian for a moment, revealing he is, in fact, an alien. Aurora sets into the portal and is finally reunited with her mother.
I admit I am absolutely terrified of Greys but this film uses that pretext to tell a great story using the cult as a basis. There are no actual aliens in the film besides a few tiny details, it’s all told through their belief in what happened to them. Whether it was real or they are simply delusional (and taking weird plants) is up to you. Cosmic Dawn gets high marks from me.