By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Matthew Nelson-Mahood, Lizzie Boys, Gabriel LaBelle
Directed by Peter Ricq
Written by Peter Ricq, Davila LeBlanc, Phil Ivanusic
Produced by Goodbye Productions, Trilight Entertainment
If you ever wanted to watch Jason’s mom and her whole undead family get the shit kicked out of them by a bunch of kids in makeshift armor, this might just be the movie for you.
DEAD SHACK follows Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood) as he gets away from his family for the weekend and goes to stay in a cabin in the woods with his friends and their family. Roger (Donavan Stinson) is looking to take his family and get away for a bit, but his girlfriend Lisa (Valerie Tran) and his kids Summer (Lizzie Boys) and Colin (Gabriel LaBelle) are less enthused about being away from civilization for a weekend. While Roger and Lisa get drunk playing strip poker, Jason, Summer, and Colin hike through the woods until they end up on private property, just in time to see their Neighbor (Lauren Holly) feed a couple of local drunks to her undead family. They, of course, panic and run (and naturally Colin throws a couple of rocks for good measure), but the Neighbor saw them: and she suits up for a conflict that will test both families as they both struggle to survive the other.
“DEAD SHACK takes a halfhearted swing at social commentary, but doesn’t truly care about the issues it haphazardly explores.”
DEAD SHACK is, first and foremost, a mixed bag of a film. It takes a few swings at social commentary, but never quite lands any of them in a way that feels satisfying. The film seems to be trying to build itself around a critique of suburbia and the “traditional family;” Jason comes from an upper middle-class family who seems to have it all but is deeply broken, and so he takes a trip with his adopted family, a nontraditional, working class family comprised of a divorced dad, his day-drunk girlfriend, and two kids who speak to each other (and their father) in ways not sanctioned by Jesus. Contrast this ragtag group with our antagonist, a self-sufficient wife and mother whose family got turned (somehow) into zombies who continues to provide for them by feeding them delinquents and ne’er do wells. The setup sounds decent enough: a Pamela Voorhees, moral majority-oriented figure clinging to the decaying remains of her nuclear family vs. a nontraditional family, happy as they are, just trying to survive. Only problem is once the film sets this conflict up, it doesn’t really seem interested in exploring it: we never learn anything about the “Neighbor,” as she’s called (and that really says all you need to know about the extent of her character development). We can only really infer certain things about her (and about what this film is trying to say about her) from how she acts; keeping her zombie husband on a leash, locking her zombie kids in a basement, trying to keep the whole thing together by sheer force of will and ultimately failing. If one was feeling generous, she could be read as a caricature, a figurehead, a symbol of the American notion of traditional family; desperately holding on to something is dying and hurting whoever she has to in order to keep things going one more day.
So what are my problems with this film? Well, the main character is spineless, gratingly awkward, and somewhat creepy; highlights from the film include him sniffing Summer’s hand when she covers his mouth to keep him from screaming, and standing quietly and uselessly, holding an axe limply in his hand, when things get real. The other characters aren’t the best either; the dad was alright, till the film spent 10-20 minutes focusing on his drunken antics as he stumbled into “The Neighbor’s” house loudly and proudly. In fact, drunkenness gets used so often as a plot centric crutch in this film that I was tempted to discuss it as a theme; every single one of the Neighbor’s victims gets flat out wasted before she kills them, and considering this isn’t an 80’s slasher film, it just seems like a lazy way to incapacitate them so the Neighbor can continue to the climax without breaking a sweat. The only character development we really get in the film is when the protagonist starts talking (out of nowhere, mind you) about his broken family, and how his friends are his real family. Oh, and he defends himself later when things go south. Congratulations kid, you’re finally not the most irritating horror protagonist I’ve seen in a hot minute. The film’s greatest sin though? It’s not really entertaining. The practical effects are pretty well done and one or two of the zombies look particularly sickening; I was even entranced by the Neighbor’s battle suit, which made her a formidable figure I couldn’t wait to see more of. But the only entertaining part of the film was the last 20 minutes, when the kids get suited up and go confront the Neighbor. The rest just drags on in a sea of crude jokes, shitty banter between characters we don’t know enough to care about, and horror movie characters making bad decisions.
Take the first paragraph of this review with a huge grain of salt, because I honestly feel like the screenwriters set up the film the way they did to give the appearance of delving into “that was some deep shit, man” territory while really just wanting to make a movie about kids in armor fighting zombies. And look, that would be fine by me, except this film isn’t anywhere near entertaining enough to pull off having no brains. I’m giving DEAD SHACK a 5 out of 10. It’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and chances are that if you see it you may not feel the same way I did about it. But in light of all the flaws I’ve already harped on, I can’t swing a higher score for this one.
We’ll give it another shot next week.