Monday, October 29, 2012

Death Becomes Her

While I was in the moment, I had a grand old time watching The Dead Inside (2011, directed by Travis Betz). It starts as a sly comedy send-up of the zombie genre, mutates into a domestic drama, and turns into something entirely different in the end. When it's in each of these moods, it's always watchable and often compelling. Whether it fully integrates all of these moods into a cohesive whole is another question entirely. Did I mention that this is also a musical? It's that kind of film.

The plot of The Dead Inside finds its central couple in crisis. Wes is a photographer whose soul is being sucked dry by wedding gigs. Fi is a writer of zombie novels. She's blocked. Both of them are metaphorically dead on the inside and it's seeping into their relationship. Fi, for her part, is also beginning to exhibit troubling behavior, including sleepwalking and self-harm. Incipient schizophrenia, perhaps? If it is, no treatment helps. As she spirals downhill, it becomes apparent that darker forces are at work.

At its core, this is essentially a chamber drama. Two characters, a limited setting, an existential conflict. Oh, the movie occasionally breaks from its apartment setting, avoiding any real complaint that it's stagebound, a fate it avoids with clever camera angles as well. It's executed well. It looks good. It also keeps up a patter of snappy dialog in each of its phases (though the zombie comedy that opens the film is probably its best conceit). I can't really find a fault with it because watching it is fun at all points of the movie.

But I'm not entirely satisfied with it, either. I mean, I "get" that each of its moods is a different variation on its punning title, and I suppose you can impose a unifying meaning with that metric. It's a MUCH different movie at the end than it is at the beginning, and that's hard to reconcile. It's almost like an anthology film constructed on the theme of "The Dead Inside," with its three individual stories comprising the droll examination of the interior life of the zombie, the stultified life of a couple who are creatively bankrupt, and the ghost/possession film. I applaud the filmmakers for attempting to integrate all of this into a single narrative. It's ambitious. I'm just not certain they succeeded.

Still, I can't really take The Dead Inside to task for this, because, as I say, it's never less than fun to watch. It's beautifully designed in colors that suggest the influence of Douglas Sirk by way of Pedro Almodovar, and the dialog between our doomed lovers is never false. In this, it's aided by actors Sarah Lassez and Dusting Fasching, who deliver good performances even when they're done-up as zombies. I wish the songs were better. I like the idea of a horror musical in principle, and even in practice, sometimes. I like musicals generally and I wish more people would make them (cue Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and their "let's put on a show!" moxie). So kudos to that. I do wonder a bit if the musical numbers serve this particular movie, though, because they tend to undercut what is ultimately a very bleak narrative. The ending of this movie is kind of a shock, given the tone of most of the rest of it. Maybe that's the point. Maybe all of this other stuff is a set-up, contrived to provide the greatest possible contrast between what the audience expects and what it gets as the kiss-off. It works, in its way, but it's hard to reconcile with those chatty zombies at the beginning.

Current tally: 24 films.
18 first time viewings.

From Around the Web

The eyes have it over at Horror 101 with Dr. AC, plus a look at some Bela Lugosi flicks. Aaron is racking up the contributions for his charity.

Eric over at Expelled Gray Matter has tingles up his spine courtesy William Castle, then feels the grip of The Devil's Hand.

Tim over at The Other Side takes on Hammer's lesbian vampires, and briefly describes introducing his kids to Army of Darkness.

Meanwhile, Dr. Blood's Video Vault looks at The Entity, a film your humble bloginatrix once snuck into after seeing E. T. Dr. Blood has been killing it all month while counting down to Halloween. Check it out.

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