My notes on Deadsight (2018), out in the US on digital and demand July 2.
Yes, another zombie outbreak film … but effective in a low-key, somehow very Canadian fashion, and set up as a gloss on the patient zero of the genre, George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead. We get another survivor named Ben … another farmhouse, with a possible refuge in the cellar … another bunch of gun-toters who might be disposed to take pot shots at the stll-living … another head cracked open on a gravestone in a location that looks very like the Living Dead cemetery … and any number of other tiny fillips and twists and takes on key moments, or even trivial asides, of Romero’s film. Withal, it’s a different story, with fresh characters, and an almost absurdist, pared-down plot that could as easily have come from one of Roman Polanski’s early Polish short films about characters in scratchy symbiotic relationships struggling through a hostile world.
By now, we don’t need even a run-down of the rules or the situation and get right into things as befuddled Ben Nielsen (Adam Seybold) wakes up handcuffed to a stretcher in a stalled ambulance with his eyes bandaged – he seems not to know what’s happened, and never quite gets round to explaining (or perhaps even realising) whether he’s cuffed for his own safety or because he’s a dangerous criminal. Not quite blind, but vision-impaired, Ben struggles to free himself and comes away with the pole of a stretcher as a crutch/weapon. Meanwhile, highway cop Mara Madigan (Liv Collins, who also co-wrote with Kevin Revie) wakes up – hugely pregnant – and sets out on patrol, though no one else alive seems to be about. A few zombies straggle by, posing a threat, and a stricken live person (Ry Barrett) demonstrates how the infection works, but mostly we stay with the lead characters, who eventually get together and make it to a farmhouse – in a genre innovation, Mara is stranded on the road when a zombie steals her patrol car – which is just a stop on their road to wherever. Seybold and Collins carry the whole film, which is especially admirable in that their characters just get by without feeling a need to explain everything … or, sometimes, anything.
It’s suspenseful and sometimes darkly witty, but the overall mood is sombre, more melancholy than horrific, with small flashes of humanity in the darkness. Directed impressively by Jesse Thomas Cook, who has a very eclectic genre CV (The Hoard, Septic Man, The Hexecutioners, Monster Brawl).
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