Indie Film Spotlight: Dead Weight (2012)
Review by Marc Patterson
Zombies are officially on the out. Thanks to shows like The Walking Dead, and films like 28 Days Later and The Road, society is slowly coming to realize that a zombie apocalypse isn’t the worst thing that could happen to us. Rather, the complete collapse of society and how we treat each other in a lawless world, where every day it’s dog-eat-dog survival, has become the ultimate horror. Zombies? They’re just a colorful plot device.
Enter Dead Weight into the foray. Well over a year ago we posted the first teaser trailer for this independently made post-apocalyptic horror film and I was really impressed with what I saw. It was moody and atmospheric. Haunting even. I’ve finally now been able to sit down and watch this film and have to admit – being that I screened it on the heels of The Collapsed, another indie PA flick, I had my reservations. It would seem that indie horror has worked its way into a hole with this over saturated sub-genre. On the surface it would appear that there’s not much more to explore and that these dozen a dime films are becoming quickly homogenized. Impressively, where The Collapsed and others were a total disappointment, Dead Weight provided a pleasant contrast.
The story starts off in typical fashion. The end of the world is underway and life will never be the same. Meet Charlie (Joe Belknap), a typical bachelor going about his day. He wakes up on his day off and sits down to watch some cartoons and eat some cereal with milk that may or may not have gone bad. Check the expiration date, give it the sniff it, scratch your balls, and dig in anyway. C’mon – it’s what we guys do when we’re unattached and don’t have a woman to keep us dignified! No sooner does Charlie collapse into his couch than his phone starts ringing off the hook. His girlfriend Samantha (Mary Lindberg), who is hundreds of miles away, is calling freaking out over the burgeoning apocalypse. The two make plans to meet in the small town of Wausau and with a click of the phone hanging up Charlie’s life turns upside down.
We flash forward a month and a half into the future. Charlie is holed up with a group of survivors in an old abandoned house. The world has become a much more dire place to live in. The group moves from house to house, during the bitter cold of winter, scavenging supplies and trying to find a safe place where they might settle down. All the while Charlie can’t seem to shake his obsession with getting to Wausau. It begins to affect his own mental well-being as well as threaten the unity and security of the group. As expected, things begin to unravel with quite horrific results.
Dead Weight is a film that delivers a real mixed bag of results. If you judge it on the first five to ten minutes alone you might be inclined to write it off. The hook just isn’t convincing. The set-up feels rushed and the script a bit canned. It’s almost as if the filmmakers wanted to say “Here’s Charlie. It’s the end of the world, blah, blah, blah. Now let’s get you to the part of the story that was really interesting for us to tell”. Luckily, when we do snap forward into the present, where Charlie is with his band of less-than-merry survivors, and we begin to witness his journey, the film becomes interesting and the writing becomes quite intense. The acting is never stellar, but it is quite solid and when the actors have decent lines they deliver them convincingly. Further, you’ll find yourself slowly getting invested in what happens to them as the story develops, another compliment to the filmmakers’ ability to inject some life into a genre that suffers from growing mediocrity.
What I really loved was how special attention was put to creating a cerebral brand of horror that would subtly get under the audience’s skin. In order to effectively accomplish this filmmakers Adam Bartlett and John Pata put heavy emphasis on the look and feel of the film. The cinematography was hands down some of the best I’ve seen in low-budget/no-budget filmmaking. The bleak desaturated look, set against a washed out winter backdrop was enough to make you get cold chills during the summer. The cold touch that digital cinematography lends only enhanced this sensation – a rare case where the more affordable option was also the best one.
While I would have loved to have the opportunity to review the two-disc DVD and dig into the array of extra features I was unfortunately stuck with a simple screener that contained only the main feature. That’s fine by me. I’ve got no problem forking over $15 to support these guys, and in fact just went and did so. That’s right. I’m always willing to put my money where my mouth is. So, if you want to explore what those extras are you can click over to the official website for more info (link below).
On one final note, I’d ask you to keep in mind while while you watch this, that Dead Weight is a truly independent film, shot in only a week with a cast and crew who were all local to the project. That said, this is far from an amateur effort. In fact, I’m asking you to keep this in mind not so that you will forgive the film of its shortcomings (though you should), but because when all has been said this was quite an impressive film whose storytelling shines over projects that had access to bigger budgets, bigger name actors, and longer production timetables. When put into proper context this is arguably as visceral as post-apocalyptic horror gets. Bartlett and Pata have crafted a chilling horror film that plays out like a classic Shakespearean tragedy, one that fervently asks the audience how far they would push their morals for someone they love.
For more information on Dead Weight, and to order the 2 Disc DVD visit the official film website of Head Trauma Productions.