Judge Daryl Loomis lives on clam chowder.
Learn to let go…or die trying.
Post-apocalyptic movies and zombies have always gone hand-in-hand. The apocalypse doesn't necessarily imply zombies, but there's always an element of it there when you assume the dead are rising from their graves. First time writer/directors Adam Bartlett and John Pata do something interesting with that concept, though, by assuming zombies (or infected, as they're called here) but never showing them and, instead, making the entire conflict exist between the survivors. It's not the first time such a thing's been done, but Dead Weight does a pretty good job with the concept.
A plague has turned humanity against itself and the few survivors must deal with both the infected and the other survivors, who are now capable of anything. As we watch Charlie (Joe Belknap) walk the road with four friends toward a small Wisconsin town, we see the rise and tragic fall of his relationship with Samantha (Mary Lindberg), the woman he's travelling to meet. When they finally reunite, they both realize that the choices they've made has rendered a reconciliation impossible.
On a certain level, Dead Weight resembles a stand-alone issue of The Walking Dead, one in which we get all new characters in a familiar situation just to see how fresh personalities react to it. In this case, though, it would be an issue written by somebody other than Robert Kirkland because even though Bartlett and Pata show some writing and directing skill in their debut, the dialog and situation just don't carry the weight of the comic.
Mostly, that's because they try to make the romance between Charlie and Samantha as important as the rest of the story. That's certainly a conscious choice that just doesn't work as well as they wanted it to. It's told through flashbacks and out of order in a way that is stylistically interesting, but not terribly effective and takes away from the suspense.
To their credit, though, Belknap and Linberg do quite well in their respective debuts. They have a certain amount of tense chemistry between them and a couple of the more emotional scenes are really effective, but seem like they belong in another film. The rest of the cast, of varying levels of experience, are all pretty good, but the nature of the story makes so many characters necessary that none of them get any time to breathe.
Bartlett and Pata show a fair bit of style in Dead Weight, as well. The main plot is filmed almost without color, with only the faintest blues and greys on screen, while the flashbacks are all shot brightly, with modern saturated tones. It's a cheap film, of course, but they make it work with the resources they have. And maybe it doesn't work as well as it could, but it is a worthy first effort that makes me excited for the future.
Dead Weight arrives from Horizon Movies on a DVD that is much stronger than movies like this would normally get. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image isn't anything particularly special, but it still looks pretty strong. It's sharp, with nice bright colors during the flashback sequences and good black levels in the dark rest of the film. Sound is good as well, with both surround and stereo sound and, though they sound pretty much identical, it's clear and sharp throughout. I suppose the surround track has a little bit of action in the rear channels, but it's not much to account for.
Extra features start with two audio commentaries. The first, with writer/directors Bartlett and Pata and if there's one thing you can't accuse them of lacking, it's enthusiasm. They talk animatedly about all aspects of the film, maybe a little too much so, but hey, it's their first film, so whatever. More conventional is the actors' commentary with Belknap and Lindberg, who go over much of the same material. It's interesting enough, if a little repetitive. A set of deleted and extended scenes display what they discuss was taken out in the commentaries. A twenty minute making-of featurette goes back over the same material and a trailer closes out the disc.
So what if it plays as much as a standalone installment of The Walking Dead and isn't the best indie horror movie you'll find? Dead Weight actually works pretty well, at least as far as post-apocalyptic romances are concerned. At times, the writing and direction are a little bit lacking, but the performances are pretty good and the writing/directing duo are just starting out and show a lot of promise. Not great, but I can mildly recommended it.
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