Once again I am in the precarious position of writing a review involving a number of people I know through varying degrees of separation. I must say that this kind of thing is getting easier and easier and that’s for two reasons.
1) I am getting to know more and more people, it seems, with almost every review and article I write and so I just now accept the fact that I have to put on my reviewer hat and get the job done.
2) The people I know who are involved with these projects are, on the whole, a very talented bunch.
Dead Weight is a zombie movie made by one such talented bunch. It may not have much actual zombie action to please someone looking for some simple flesh-eating, genre fun but it uses the staples of the sub-genre to look at how survivors would/could adapt to the situation, how the horror would change the majority of those trying to stay safe and how essential it is to move forward without looking back.
Joe Belknap plays Charlie Russell, an everyday guy who loves his girlfriend (Samantha, played by Mary Lindberg) and also loves getting into some comfortable clothing to eat cereal and read comic books when he wants to relax. He’s in that exact situation when Samantha calls him to tell him about a strange situation that’s happening, an outbreak of some unidentified virus that means areas are being quarantined. Not wanting to be stuck in any such quarantine zone, Samantha is going to strike out with a colleague and make for a safer place to wait it all out. It quickly becomes clear that Samantha and Charlie are not living in the same city and so they agree to meet at a place very special to both of them, a place that Charlie then determines to get to at any cost.
In the same way that Pontypool took the zombie movie and changed it with a number of interesting ideas, Dead Weight uses the undead as a springboard for some intelligent and thought-provoking moments that show almost every aspect of human nature, and how it can be easily darkened and warped. What it lacks, to warn those seeking standard deadite action, is some onscreen zombie action. They are there, their presence is always a constant threat, and they are visible at times but I am putting that statement in here for anyone who simply wants to see Return Of The Living Dead XIV: Afterlife On Mars (or whatever title you want to come up with).
Adam Bartlett and John Pata deserve a hell of a lot of praise (and, indeed, they have already been receiving it from the right quarters) for creating something that uses traditional aspects of the zombie movie and traditional aspects of the road movie (and, indeed, The Road movie) and blends them nicely to present something that feels both familiar and yet also quite fresh.
The cast are a mixed bag but also deserve credit for getting the job done. Personally, I liked Joe Belknap and his character but I can see why people would easily take a dislike to him as he’s the type of man who doesn’t say a lot. He uses humour as a defence mechanism, he can get a bit grumpy and he doesn’t always show his emotions in the best way. Yes, he is, in fact, almost exactly like ME and perhaps that’s why I enjoyed identifying with him, despite the twists and turns of the journey that he was on. Mary Lindberg is okay in a slightly more thankless role (she is, for the most part, little more than motivation for Belknap’s character) but the movie suffers in the scenes between Belknap and Lindberg with a distinct lack of chemistry between the two. They’re not actually doing anything majorly wrong, there’s just no spark there. Elsewhere, we have (my friend and yours) Aaron Christensen giving a great performance as the sensible, cynical leader of a group of survivors who meet up with Charlie. Michelle Courvais gives the best performance of the lot, I almost didn’t recognise her for the first half of the movie, as Meredith, a female character with a lot of strength who never stumbles over into “Ripley” territory but always seems capable of handling herself while also retaining a hint of vulnerability. Sam Lenz and Jess Ader also give decent performances.
Dead Weight is a very good film, a very good film indeed. And when you consider how much heart and ingenuity went into making the movie it becomes something I’d almost happily class as great. In fact, the only reason I have held back and settled on an 8/10 rating is to ensure that my opinion of the whole thing isn’t too overshadowed by my admiration and respect for everyone involved.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: ADAM BARTLETT, JOHN PATA
STARS: JOE BELKNAP, MARY LINDBERG, MICHELLE COURVAIS, AARON CHRISTENSEN, SAM LENZ, JESS ADER
RUNTIME: 89 MINS APPROX
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