DVD REVIEW: DEAD WEIGHT (2012)
Reviewing a zombie/post-apocalyptic/infected-outbreak type of film has always been about characters in a film fighting to survive against insurmountable odds, whatever they may be. Adam Bartlett and John Pata’s independent film DEAD WEIGHT is a story focusing on one man, Charlie Russell (Joe Belknap), who during an apocalyptic viral outbreak (told to viewers via a television news broadcast that our lead actor turned on at the insistence of his girlfriend Samantha) is separated from his girlfriend Samantha (Mary Lindberg) and is now part of a group of survivors simply struggling to survive and reunite with her.
The film has some good points to it, such as some solid acting by a select group of actors and actresses, and some decent effort was put into making the film a character study rather than focusing on the viral outbreak, the infected human beings, and the aftermath of the whole epidemic. In fact, the epidemic itself is not the focus of the film and neither are the infected. One will notice that if all the scenes of the infected are omitted and the scenes of survival of the small group that Charlie is part of also, the story is nothing more than a simple love story. In fact, the movie may be categorized as Post-Apocalytpic or Horror, but it really is not. It is a bleak and dystopian love story. This viewer may go even so far as to say it’s a poorly done chick flick, in the sense that a film like LEGALLY BLONDE or CLUELESS is a really good chick flick.
One can’t help but compare most films that involve humans turned hostile or cannibalistic towards other humans and possessing none or their normal traits or characteristics as being a zombie film, in the traditional sense of the word and genre or an infection outbreak film along the lines of Danny Boyle’s 28 DAYS LATER, or Romero’s THE CRAZIES (and it’s newly “revisioned” remake). The difference between DEAD WEIGHT and the two aforementioned films besides budgetary constraints that a true Indie film has is that this film focuses on the characters and lacks A-List actors and actresses. At times, the acting in the film is very believable and one forgets that some of the cast has never acted before or been theater with any professional schooling or training. Sadly, there are times that one is reminded that some of the cast has not acted professionally before and that fact is most evident when they are in scenes with those who have had experience in front of the camera.
As usual, one of the best performances in DEAD WEIGHT was given by the husband and wife team of Aaron Christensen and Michelle Courvais who play Meredith and Thomas. The best scene in the film and, frankly, most compelling scene in the whole film was one in which the couple Harrison (Steve Herson) and Ellen (Cheri Sandlin) are talking with Charlie and Harrison gives him the news that there is nothing for anyone in Wausau, WI and proceeds to…well, lets just say it is one of my favorite scenes in the whole film. The mood grows dark, complemented by some terrific score supplied by Nicholas Elert, and is one of the pivotal scenes in the film in which the true nature of victims getting bit is explained. One learns that the virus was started by people and not by nature. It is not about the dead coming back to life but about something taking control and using you. Sort of vague I guess, when one thinks about it. So, I guess the film is not a zombie film, but more of a film about a planned infection of sorts that turns people into violent assholes. The darkness I am referring to that takes over the actions and thoughts of Charlie Russell at key points throughout the film are scenes that would have made the film move a little bit quicker along and not move at such a slow pace.
The slow pacing of the film, lack of a medium amount of blood and gore, and fluctuation of the quality of acting in certain scenes are the only negative aspects to what very well could have been one of the smartest Indie films to hit the horror genre. At the 53 minute mark is where DEAD WEIGHT really picks up the pace with a plethora of very well shot and edited scenes, great acting from the better actors and actresses in the film, and a turning point in the film where it rounds a corner to the darker, finer points of the film. I might add that if it was not for some pretty solid cinematography, the film quite possibly might have failed to be taken seriously and on-par with its dark tone and subject matter.
Adam Bartlett and John Pata, who also wrote the film, definitely had an agenda when filming DEAD WEIGHT. Obviously both fans of the zombie genre, it is evident that they respect the genre not just for the blood and guts many films tend to focus their films around but more for the back-stories behind the characters that are plunged into a terrible situation that is like walking into a dark tunnel that is endless with no light ever appearing at the end of it.
DEAD WEIGHT is a spinal tap into the psyche of one man whose quest to reunite himself with his girlfriend takes viewers into a labyrinth of darkness whose mazes lead nowhere and submerges one into a dark pool of abysmal sludge that hardens as one struggles to comprehend its origin. Another point of contention this movie geek thought about while watching the film was that in some of the slower scenes that are lacking that slow-burn payoff really good movies deliver the scenes could have held my attention more if there was some background score used to convey these scenes of emotion effectively (where the acting failed to). I felt that where more score was used, it added more to each scene and stirred more of an emotional response in the viewer. The second half of the film had more musical score in more scenes, moving the film along at a swifter pace and filling each scene with more emotion.
The DVD release of DEAD WEIGHT that I got my hands on to review was a 2-disc edition, did not have the alternate (and cooler cover) drawn by artist Tony Moore. Not only does disc one contain the feature film but it also contains an actor and director commentary, outtakes, photo gallery, and trailers. As for disc 2, there is a making of featurette entitled “685 Miles to Wausau: The Making of Dead Weight“,”Why’d You Jump Out of the God Damn Bushes?!” Featurette, and a clip from Channel 19 News.
John Pata, whom directed BETTER OFF UNDEAD, a short horror-comedy from 2007, definitely has grown as a director and writer. Horror fans and movie buffs alike need to keep an eye out on what films and projects Mr.Pata will be working on in the future. One day, I hope to go to a major cinema chain of theaters and see one of his productions up on the big screen, but I fear that may never happen because I don’t see this Indie filmmaker ever selling his ideals and values short just to make a buck and contribute to the Hollywood movie-making machine. Nonetheless, DEAD WEIGHT is definitely worth giving a chance and one can sell the film to one’s girlfriend by presenting it to her as a “poorly done chick flick”. I give you my permission.