FrightFest 2021 film review: Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes
Exquisite retro stylisation9
Sophisticated narrative layering9
Anton Bitel | On 28, Aug 2021
Director: Kevin Kopacka
Cast: Anna Platen, Jeff Wilbusch, Frederik von Lüttichau, Luisa Taraz, Robert Nickish
Where to watch Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes online in the UK: FrightFest 2021
This film is playing in person at FrightFest 2021 in August – and will stream online as part of the festival’s digital event in September. For more details on the online line-up and how to watch, click here.
Despite its relatively short running time of 73 minutes, Dawn Breaks Behind The Eyes (Hinter den Augen die Dämmerung) is concerned with eternity – and eternal return. This is clear from the outset, because its prologue is formally entitled “Our Eternity In This Castle”. As married couple Margot (Luisa Taraz) and Dieter (Frederik von Lüttichau) explore the remote castle that Margot has just inherited, the insidious impression quickly emerges that they are trapped there and will not, perhaps ever, be able to leave. Margot and Dieter also seem trapped and suffocated by the toxic friction in their relationship, even if the power dynamic between them gradually shifts in its cycling modulation from brittle bickering to full-on BDSM.
The film, although made two decades into the 21st century, resurrects and revamps very specific visual and aural mannerisms of Euro-gothic from the late 1960s, as though this cinematic past were itself never-ending. Indeed, Kevin Kopacka’s film, which he co-wrote with Lili Villányi, self-consciously seeks to break its own circle of entrapment and to find a satisfactory close to an endless, repeating battle of the sexes.
“There’s a market for everything,” says Margot, when the arrogantly dismissive Dieter suggests that nobody will want to buy the castle. Margot may as well be describing Dawn Breaks Behind The Eyes itself, which comes with a rarefied appeal that definitely has its niche.
Dieter would like nothing more than to sell up and cash in on his wife’s fortune, while Margot dreams of staying and making the castle their home, even raising children there. Both know, however, that hers is an impossible dream, at least with Dieter, given his inability to satisfy his wife in bed let alone give her children – and so this domineering, impotent man is a leech, not unlike the vampiric creature that he encounters in the basement. Asserting, sometimes violently, his power, Dieter drains his wife of her energy, until the tables are turned and his emasculation is graphically literalised. As all this takes place, there are cutaways to a bespectacled man observing in close-up, while a male and female voice are occasionally heard, offering a choral commentary on the unfolding events and the infernal fixity of time. For Margot and Dieter’s domestic drama is being watched by ghostly presences that haunt the building, just beyond these characters’ grasp, as if from the other side of the screen. These elusive spirits are witnessing a restaging of their own circumstances, and recognising themselves in what they see. Their identities become clearer as they too try to find a way out of their purgatorial impasse and into the dawn of a tomorrow that may never come.
Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes is a sophisticated reflection both upon the iniquitous relations between the genders, and upon the creative process itself. Like a castle-horror version of Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear, Kopacka’s film tells and retells a familiar, recurring story of male treachery and the trap of patriarchy, re-echoing at different narrative levels. Like the renovation that Dieter plans to carry out to make the property saleable, this tricksy, involuted feature conjures the ghosts of cinema past for sensitive reconstruction, and finds in all these hoary tropes something beautifully styled and trippily innovative, where the fourth wall is also a mirror, refracting images of sexual betrayal ad infinitum.
Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes plays at FrightFest at Home at 6pm on Friday 3rd September 2021.