By DAKOTA DAHL
Starring Kelly Kay, Tatyana Olal, Garrett Johnson and Melina Trimarchi
Written by James Watts and Kelly Watts
Directed by James Watts
Gravitas Ventures and Kamikaze Dogfight
According to just about every horror movie, if you ever have the audacity to go on vacation, you will die. During pandemic times, this can be a bit of catharsis since most of us are being good little shut-ins while opulent, irresponsible travelers collect new strains of CORONA like shiny, viral Pokémon. While Kamikaze Dogfight ‘s DEATH TRIP tends to save most of the titular “death” for the last few moments of the film, it still delivers an enjoyable, captivating, and fun voyage through youthful drama and eventual murder.
The film follows Kelly (Kelly Kay) who wanders down an alley after seeing her partner begin flirting with another girl at a party. She gets bludgeoned to death by an unseen figure in the alley, which is a pretty sweet way to open your film, even if it does turn out to be a dream sequence. We are left to wonder how much of what transpired was a dream, and how much of the party actually happened, since she seems determined to go on a trip (of death!) to a friend’s cabin up north. Well, more north, since DEATH TRIP was filmed in Canada, so American audiences better strap in for lots of beer and metric system measurements. Along for the ride are Tatyana (Tatyana Olal), Melina (Melina Trimarchi) and Garrett (Garrett Johnson). The two girls are fun, supportive, and cool, while Garrett is a horny creep in a denim jacket – doing little to fight Canadian stereotypes.
Multiple red herrings get peppered throughout the drunken trip, such as a sexy neighbor who may or may not come from a murderous family, or the fact that Garrett’s grandfather passed away in the bed Kelly needs to sleep in. The fakeouts continue when a series of maybe/maybe-not dreams show flashes of violence. Things escalate when Tatyana sees a corpse leg poking out of a derelict car in the woods and gets chased away by an irate neighbor. The group decides to discuss the situation at a local restaurant, where, once the wine begins to flow, they quickly get sidetracked by a bunch of locals who invite them to a party. In the party mood, Tatyana quickly forgets that she saw an actual dead person. I get it, we’ve all been there. Anyways, they piss off some of the locals, and suddenly there’s a laundry list of people ready to murder all four of them.
The main (and minor) problem with DEATH TRIP is that the events leading up to the climax, where the actual horror elements take place, make up roughly 90% of the film. Most of the time is spent establishing that Kelly is having a weird thing with Garrett, despite also having a sort-of boyfriend back in the city. The film is a great example of how to build organic characters who seem relatable, but a lot of it could have been left out to actually create some tension. The final confrontation, and the few violent dream sequences, are all so short and so few that the film does feel like a slog at times.
Where Director James Watts really shines is making everything look gorgeous, which is especially impressive considering the film was shot on an estimated $30,000 budget. Nature is captured with exquisite detail, with lingering shots to give a sense of isolation. The snowy branches and frozen landscapes juxtapose exquisitely against the harsh, angular alleys we see Kelly get stalked down at the beginning of the movie. It’s a striking change of scenery for the four main characters that we follow.
Most of the film is superbly acted, especially during the party scene. If you’ve ever been yanked into a local party while vacationing, you’ll recognize the characters. The person who pulls you into a private conversation only for you to realize they’re very mentally unwell, the person who draws all the attention to themselves just by being a loud dickhead, the whole crowd being impressed with the simple act of breaking bottles, all the types and details are present in grossly realistic detail. All of this makes DEATH TRIP a competent Canadian-made slow burn, filmed intelligently and on a shoestring budget, that manages to deliver a satisfying payoff.
DEATH TRIP is available February 16th On Digital platforms from Gravitas Ventures and Kamikaze Dogfight.