I originally saw DAWN OF THE DEAF at Fantastic Fest 2016. I was blown away by so much of what was done in such a short amount of time. The intricate world building, character development, and clever visual styles all made it a true stand out. Then, in the last moments—that punny, sub-MAD Magazine title drops and a groan escaped my lips. The film is a masterclass on how to use a microcosm to suggest a macrocosm of chaos and horror; and furthermore, it focuses on a segment of society that is rarely used as anything more than just clichéd tropes. To underscore that with an unnecessary throwback to Romero’s film muddies it up.
But, if the only misfire in your short film is its title, then clearly the filmmakers are onto something great. Writer/director Rob Savage has concocted a very familiar scenario—an impending apocalypse, set amidst the backdrop of personal turmoil—but makes it truly unique in the way he and his crew depict the characters and the fact that leads are all portraying the hearing impaired. You follow these various deaf people and their loved ones, in an almost MAGNOLIA-like sprawl of different crises at the same time, before a horrific event befalls the world. It’s a patient film that knows how to build up tension, shows a deep understanding of the way to dispense information about events and characters, and makes viewers deeply committed to what’s going on before things even turn “interesting” with the horror elements.
What’s more, by highlighting the hearing impaired, it showcases a segment of the population that is usually relegated to flat supporting roles. With few exceptions (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, HUSH, amongst few others), the differently abled are not well represented in genre film. They tend to be put in either “mystical” roles that allow them to have a keen insight into the plot, but no real character depth; or else are used as a set up for a particularly helpless victim in over their heads (see a lot of THE BEYOND, BLINK, or FADE TO BLACK). DAWN OF THE DEAF is a great example of the stories still needing to be told and the focus that still needs to be shifted to this oft overlooked part of our society.
To learn more about the film, visit its website. In the meantime, watch the short below and enjoy a very unique and expertly made film; just ignore its dumb title.