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AFI FEST 2008: Dead, Reckoning


I like horror movies that push the envelope if there’s a point to it, and it doesn’t simply feel like there’s a dunce behind the camera going, “Awww yeah dude, we’re making the sickest, most twisted shit ever!” There’s plenty of room in my world for twisted shit (OLDBOY, for example), but directors who forget the story and simply abuse and kill their protagonists for no reason often lose me.

So I’m warning y’all upfront that DEADGIRL is some extreme cinema, but it’s also got a lot going on. Scripted by Troma alumnus Trent Haaga (TOXIC AVENGER 4), it only very briefly hits Tromatic heights late in the movie, and mostly remains dark and low key, with a small group of simple settings, the main one being an abandoned asylum. Not since SESSION 9 has such a setting been used this well.

The simple set-up is that two callow youths, one a total loser named JT (Noah Segan, BRICK) and the other being the sort of vaguely good-looking, slightly sensitive, typical high-school-movie protagonist who goes here by the name of Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez, of the short-lived cult TV series JERICHO). Screwing around in the old asylum and breaking stuff, they end up in the basement, and discover a naked girl tied to a gurney. She’s breathing. She moans appreciatively when JT touches her. But then when she tries to bite him, and he responds by breaking her neck…she’s still breathing. The he shoots her. She won’t die. More to the point, she’s already dead. As in UNdead.

JT’s response? Keep her as his secret sex slave. She’s tied up and can’t resist, plus she’s a zombie so who cares about abusing her, right? Except JT is clearly sacrificing part of his soul in the process, as he becomes more and more deranged by the process. Meanwhile, Rickie is trying to court the girlfriend of an aggressive jock, and everything generally just starts getting more and more out of control. To spoil more of the details would be unfair, but so long as you know that there’s plenty of zombie-fucking, and that it isn’t exactly played for laughs, you’re prepared.

Jenny Spain’s performance as the Deadgirl is a thing of wonder, feral and frightening, yet vaguely seductive in a twisted way. Some will undoubtedly call the movie misogynist, but I think it ultimately reflects worse on guys. Teenage boys often think of women as just pieces of meat, and this concept puts that to the test by giving us one that actually is. It’s also a fresh take on the zombie movie that does what the best of them always do — comments on the perceptions of society. There’s a great scene where JT and another friend of his try to kidnap a real live woman by promising her weed, and she ends up beating the shit out of them. And the ending…boy, does it pay off.

A few other quick takes for catch-up:

A Dilbert/Kafka-style satire of numbing office busy work, with bearded comedian Zach Galifiniakis as a well-off cog in the huge machine of a corporation whose logo is an array of differently shaped skyscrapers in the shape of a hand flipping you off. At work, his only joy is an over-the-phone flirtation with an unseen colleague on another level; at home, he’s numb and impotent, while his wife (Judy Greer) spends her time watching banal daytime TV. This is fairly familiar territory, and it’s lacking an edge — the main high-concept here is that people are occasionally exploding for no reason, but since you never really no why, and the corporation’s response of clipping mood-enhancers on people isn’t actually much of a threat, the stakes seem low. I actually preferred the Crispin Glover BARTLEBY movie over this, though the Melville short story that flick was based on beats both hands-down.

A cab driver accidentally becomes involved with a gangster/gambler; meanwhile, his delinquent son makes and deals drugs, and his other son, in the U.S., wants a wire transfer of $2000. But the narrative is almost beside the point, in this Argentinian tale told somewhat abstractly. Artful, and ultimately interesting once the viewer has managed to orient himself, it doesn’t quite seem to earn the extreme brutality of its climactic act.

Here’s an unusual movie, one of those that drastically changes tone about a third of the way through. A Ukrainian prostitute in Austria’s red-light district is having an affair with one of the brothel’s hired help, and they secretly plan their escape. Then, when the relationship suddenly takes a dramatic turn, we follow the man as he returns to his grandfather’s country farm, which happens to be adjacent to that of an unpleasant face from his past. Having been action-heist, the story settles into a slower drama, albeit one with disturbing undertones. I would have liked a bit more closure by the end, but kudos for going for broke in all the sex scenes.

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Rating: 7.5/10 (4 votes cast)
AFI FEST 2008: Dead, Reckoning, 7.5 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
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