September Dawn

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
September Dawn Movie Poster Image
Massacre movie casts Mormons in villainous light.
  • R
  • 2007
  • 110 minutes

Parents say

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Kids say

age 17+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie portrays Mormons as devious murderers who dupe a wagon train party and the local Native Americans before masterminding a brutal massacre.

Violence

Lots of violence, especially the massacre near the film's end, when women and children are killed in very bloody slow motion scenes that include hacking, shooting, and grisly use of hatchets. Flashbacks show looting and burning, as well as throats being cut; another flashback shows Arkansas townsfolk shooting Joseph Smith and his brother (body appears in a bloody puddle). A dead woman's body floats in a river. Jonathan fights the Mormons who restrain him (on his father's orders); he's chained in a cell. Micah repeatedly smashes a body with his rifle, then appears covered in blood; victims include young children and women. Samuelson shoots his son's fiancée; she dies in front of Jonathan, blood seeping from her chest.

Sex

References to multiple wives (though viewers don't see them); mentions of "whoring" and a woman's "masculine" behavior as an "abomination." A young woman appears nude (full frontal, through a mostly obscuring gauzy curtain) during a religious ritual; Jonathan finds Emily bathing in the river -- she slips down her slip strap and he gasps, though viewers only see her shoulder.

Language

One use of "damn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention of "drinking" in California (a state apparently full of vice...).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie revolves around a very controversial -- and extremely brutal -- massacre that took place in 1857. The film presents most of its Mormon characters as righteous, bloodlust-driven zealots who planned and ultimately carried out the attack, which left an entire wagon train dead. The slow-motion scenes of the event itself are explicit and bloody, featuring images of young children and women being shot, chopped at with hatchets, and hit by arrows. One religious ritual scene shows a young woman nude from the front (she's covered by a gauzy curtain); another scene shows a girl with her shoulder bared as she's bathing in a river (which entrances her young man).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byjoeaverageviewer April 9, 2008

Powerful, we need more Non PC Movies like this

Powerful performances by well-knowns and newcomers propel the story of this horrible, tragic event. The damage that results when religious delusion meets blind... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byKayte wynn November 22, 2011

NOT TRUE!!!!

You know, if you know absolutely nothing about Mormons, then how about you don't do something like this. This might aswell be like saying Catholics suck bl... Continue reading

What's the story?

Framed by testimony from Brigham Young (Terence Stamp), SEPTEMBER DAWN presents a fictionalized chronicle of the Mountain Meadows Massacre on Sept. 11, 1857 (an event long denied by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). Determined to lead his Mormon community against what he sees as the world's many corruptions, self-righteous (fictional) Bishop Jacob Samuelson (Jon Voight) plans a murderous attack on a wagon train of some 120 Arkansans en route to California. The movie draws a clear line between the innocent travelers and the Mormons, depicted here as bloodthirsty religious extremists who are still angry over the 1844 murder of their founder, Joseph Smith (Dean Cain). Samuelson is also angered by the apparent betrayal of his son Jonathan (Trent Ford), who holds his father responsible for his mother's death and also begins a romance with one of the wagon train travelers, Emily (Tamara Hope). Cagey Samuelson enlists local Paiute Indians to wage the initial assault on the wagon train. When some braves are killed, the Paiute leader backs out, so the saints have to do their own dirty work.

Is it any good?

As the awkward, Romeo and Juliet-esque plot element suggests, September Dawn is overwrought and poorly structured. The too-easy opposition between Jonathan and his indoctrinated brother Micah (Taylor Handley) leads to hugely emotional but unconvincing conflicts.

The massacre is rendered in slow motion, with dead babies and bloody girls strewn everywhere, and the Mormon killers cast as the equivalent of modern-day terrorists. Although September Dawn may be attempting to draw a parallel between Samuelson's dedication and that of a certain U.S. administration, his story remains muddled. Samuelson is so resolutely demented that it's difficult to know exactly where to start blaming him.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how history is interpreted. How do different versions of a story shape belief systems and communities? Is it ever possible to know which is the "right" version of something that took place in the past? Families can also discuss how the various groups in the movie -- the Mormons, the Fancher party, the Paiute Indians -- are portrayed. How do you think the different groups would react to the movie? How could you find out more about the events depicted here? (One option is the PBS program The Mormons, which offers other views of the Mormon War.)

Movie details

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