Dead Weight Review
About a month ago my friend Ian at Kicking the Seat held a contest where you were supposed to write about how you would improve a horror movie. In my entry I talked about how I really liked the first half of Jeepers Creepers which was about teenagers being stalked by a serial killer in a truck. I also liked the first half of The Descent which was about a group of thrill-seeking tough chicks who end up exploring an uncharted cave. Both of these really scary movies were ruined by the appearance of monsters and supernatural bullshit about halfway through. Ian agreed with me, and sent me a copy of the Dead Weight special edition DVD autographed by the filmmakers with a special cover my The Walking Dead's Tony Moore.
All of this preamble is important because first, I want to thank Ian and plug his site whenever I can, and second to demonstrate how I ended up watching this movie in the first place. Dead Weight is not the type of movie I would have picked generally. These days I don’t watch a lot of indie films at all, let alone indie horror films, so everything I have to say about this film should be viewed through this lens.
Dead Weight is a film about a man, Charlie, who is trying to find his girlfriend, Samantha, in a post-zombie apocalypse wasteland. He must trek, on foot, from Toledo, Ohio to Wausau, Wisconsin. He makes the trek with a group of 4 other survivors. As they travel, he has flashbacks to his relationship with Sam, which unroll backwards chronologically, ending with how they first met.
This is a great concept for a film. Despite the zombie survival genre, it is really not a horror movie. The zombies themselves are barely shown, only really alluded to, for the first hour of the movie. What the movie is, is a love story. The two lead actors, Joe Belknap and Mary Lindburg, have exactly one acting credit on their resume. However, they have great chemistry together and carry the flashback scenes very well. I’d watch a relationship movie with these two actors any day. I hope they get lots of work from this film. Several of the other actors were also great in smaller roles, specifically Steve Herson as Harrison, and Aaron Christensen as Thomas.
Unfortunately, the flashbacks only make up about half of the movie. The survival/horror parts of the film don’t play nearly as well. The acting was typical of indie films, very inconsistent. Usually the line readings were just fine, but occasionally, they were simply terrible. This is one of my main issues with indie films in general. I’d almost rather have every line of dialog be cheezy and overwrought than just the occasional bad line reading sticking out like a sore thumb.
While the movie takes a really nice surprise turn about an hour in, the first hour moves very slowly. I understand that the filmmaker was going for bleak and desolate, and he definitely achieved that, but would it have killed him to have one or two zombie appearances to keep the tension up? Trying to play up the “humans are the real monsters” theme is all fine and good, but I think one of the two consecutive scenes where the group’s female is threatened with rape could have been replaced with a nice zombie chase or something.
Considering that the movie has multiple flashbacks, a subtitle that helps us keep track of time would have been helpful. The trip from Toledo, Ohio to Wausau, Wisconsin is 525 miles, but based on the desolation and destruction the group treks through, it seems like 5 years. I understand that fear and hunger are issues that the group would have to deal with but they are traveling through the rural Midwest. Are you telling me they couldn’t find one gun with bullets? That none of these farmhouses had full pantries or root cellars? No motorcycles, or ATVS, or snowmobiles? They could only stay in ancient farmhouses with no windows? That kind of contrived plot really took me out of that part of the story. It’s hard to have too much sympathy for the plight of characters when you can solve all of their problems a hundred times over.
I don’t want to sound too negative about the film. As a low-budget, independent film I think I have appropriate expectations. The two lead characters were really good, especially in the flashback scenes. The twist at the one hour mark is also really fun and surprising. After that, the movie cooks along to a very satisfying conclusion. The trouble is not punching through your TV during the long, long, walking scenes. Overall, I was very satisfied with the film and will be excited to see what the first time filmmakers, Adam Bartlett and John Pata do for a follow up. Check out their website and see the trailer here.