Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dead Weight

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! There's probably already a lower budget version of this film somewhere called Dead Wait.

Dead Weight – 3 out of 5

Honestly, I should have watched this low budget post-apocalyptic film earlier because a buddy of mine is in it. It would have been the supportive thing to do but, since I review pretty much everything I watch (the only exceptions are documentaries and TV shows), I worried about not liking it and then I would have to face the moral dilemma of being honest and saying I didn’t like it and await him to hire a contract killer to kill both me and our friendship or lie and say I loved it. This wouldn’t be a problem if I ended up loving it but my mind always goes towards worst case scenario. You might remember I had this same complication when a friend of mine made a puppet-adaptation of Moby-Dick…but, thankfully, that worked out for me. Sadly, this one didn’t work out as well as that time did…

One day, Charlie (Joe Belknap) gets a frantic phone call from his girlfriend Samantha (Mary Lindberg) telling him that a mysterious outbreak has started and the world is turning to shit. Charlie tells her to get to Wausau, Wisconsin, where he thinks it’s safe, and he’ll meet her there. What follows is a tale of Charlie doing everything he can—digging deep into the dark recesses of his brain to do everything he can to survive and make it to Samantha. Neither the infected nor the danger of other survivors he comes across will stop him. The only thing that may prove to be his downfall is his own loss of humanity…
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Why didn't anyone tell me that the Penguin from Gotham was in this film?

Dead Weight is an interesting experiment in the zombie genre but, sadly, it falls victim to many of the shortcomings that other indie/low budget zombie flicks fall to. I’ve said it before in other reviews, budgets don’t make the film. It is entirely possible for low budget, independent films to be just as good (or better) than stuff churned out by the big studios. While the limits of budget can be seen at times with this one—for example in editing and video quality—this really wasn’t the big hang-up this one had and prevented me from enjoying it more. While these problems do exists—like there’s clearly a scene where a cast or crew member bumped the camera and the editing is terribly harsh during the early moments in the film—the real issues I had with this film reside elsewhere.
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"Are the issues in this abandoned house?"

Victims of the elements and their low budget made this film be filled with some very obvious continuity errors. For example, a snow storm hit at some point during breaks in filming and the story will go from snowless landscapes to a typical Wisconsin winter. While this could easily be explained away with a throwaway line or an emphasis that some time has passed, this film doesn’t really succeed in really fully or concretely addressing it. However, this plays into another element the film had issues with: Showing the passage of time in the plot. Never did I get a sense that any semblance of major time has passed and the events, which seem to be taking place over a few weeks end up feeling like they only happened over a day or two. The snow fall also made for a plot hole I was unable to look past.

Even though the film makes it sorta clear that society as a whole has collapsed due to this viral outbreak, it seems that the snowplow operators are still out in force making sure that the roadways are clear of snow and ice. I know that the production couldn’t afford to shut down roads and cover them with phony snow and that I might come off a bit nit-picky with this one but, even though I could overlook it during the few times it was around, it did end up hurting the overall suspension of disbelief and kept me from being fully invested in the story.
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The snow melted...or not even the apocalypse will stop the plow drivers from keeping
the roads clean.

Acting wise, the film is a mixed bag. Overall, actors were running the spectrum of being great to being terrible and, often, specific actors would run this spectrum all by themselves. I’ve watched a lot of low budget films in my life and seen performances that can only be explained by the theory that the production kidnapped a man off the street and gave him a script and told him to go to work but, thankfully, Dead Weight never gets to this point. Granted, you’re not going to see anyone get nominated for an Oscar here but there are players who clearly have some raw talent that could easily be cultivated into something amazing…I’m also thankful that my buddy (who played the head of a group of murderous, and very rapey, backwoods dudes) wasn’t awful.
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And here's my buddy.  He's also a comedian and he's hysterical...and handsome...
and prone to giving wannabe movie critics money for no reason.

Even though the acting is passable and works for what it is, the acting from the two main characters wasn’t the best. Joe Belknap is one of those I mentioned who will run the spectrum of good and bad. Most of the time, Belknap is adequate but not very memorable or that attention grabbing but when he’s bad, he’s very wooden and awkward. There are plenty of times where his delivery of lines come off as unnatural—especially when the line contains a swear word. While I have no problem with curse words, I do have a problem when they don’t feel natural and come off as gratuitous, like when a child first learns of them and uses them because they think it makes them look cool. Often, when Belknap drops an F-bomb, that’s how they come off and it makes his performance in that particular scene look painfully awkward. Not to mention that, often, the side characters were better than Belknap and the other leading player.
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I really enjoyed this man's performance.  It was small but he was good.

Mary Lindberg, who plays Charlie’s girlfriend Samantha, is exponentially worse. While definitely not the worse thing I’ve seen in a low budget affair, her reactions and line reading is too over-the-top to make her look like a realistic character. Her facial expressions, body language and the way she emphasizes specific words in her lines don’t come off as real and it makes her look like she is spending her whole time overthinking her performance rather than actually just doing it. Thankfully, she’s not in the film that much but it definitely hurt me getting into the story and Charlie’s journey. However, even with my complaints about the cast, this film definitely—without a shadow of a doubt—has much better acting than 99% of other independently crafted and funded zombie-esque films I’ve seen in my life…and I’ve seen a lot of them.
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Lindberg isn't very good but when compared to other low budget films, she's fucking amazeballs!

Which brings me to my final point…
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How can there even be an outbreak when a beard like that exists?  That thing is fucking immaculate and
it should have synthesized a cure with its beardy powers.
There was no sense of urgency to the story. I understand that the whole point of the story is Charlie trying to get to his love and that’s established in the opening moments but, for much of the first two-thirds of the film, I never really got any sense that Charlie was that determined to get to her. Due to the fact the film spends this time watching Charlie and the group of survivors he’s with (or just alone) walk, collect food, and run into other survivors, it ended up making it feel like Charlie was no longer trying to get to Wausau to see Samantha and was just satisfied with trying to survive. Yes, the story keeps reminding you of Samantha because of flashbacks but the main story never really screamed "I HAVE TO GET TO HER!!!!" And then, all of a sudden, Charlie is so filled with vigor and purpose that he murders anyone who gets in his way so he can get to Wausau. Where the hell was that drive when some backwoods rednecks wanted to rape the woman in your group? Like other elements of the film, it just made it nearly impossible for me to really get caught up in the story because it looked like the central character wasn’t even that into what was happening most of the time.
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"Whoa, slow down guys.  We were walking and things are just moving too fast for this story."

There are other problems I had with the film that, honestly, were more minor than anything. For example, the camera work can be pretty weak. I already mentioned that someone clearly bumped the camera at one point but very often establishing shots will be out of focus or shots are too static (and when they are not, they are shaking too much). But then there’s the opening of the film which involves the camera remaining stationary in Charlie’s apartment and we have to watch a long and painfully awkward scene where we see him come home from something, toss his keys on the counter and then continue to remain awkward in the corner while we watch him get a comic book and a bowl of cereal before he disappears down a hallway and we have to listen to him do something off-screen (we’re still in his kitchen, by the way), before he reappears in pajama pants. While not an entertainment killer for the film, it does make for a lackluster begin to the film and is pretty much establishes the technical level you are going to deal with in Dead Weight.
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This is riveting shit.

There’s also the issue of the infected/zombies. Essentially, Dead Weight is a zombie-less zombie film. I’ve always felt that the key to a great zombie movie is to focus on the survivors and that the zombie action and gore is the icing on the cake. Dead Weight seems to be an experiment of being something that belongs in the zombie genre but doesn’t actually contain zombies. It’s an interesting concept. I was digging how they would talk about the zombie (or infected) but you'd never see them. At one point, you sorta get a glimpse of them but it wasn’t till the final moments of the film that you actually get to see any…and that’s when I learned why, like the shark in Jaws, the story works around them.
                                                                                                     Head Trauma Productions can see the legs of the infected.  That's...scary.  I think...maybe.

Similar to having a mechanical shark that just didn’t work, Dead Weight and, I’m guessing, its budget, just couldn’t afford to have the infected shown. When they finally show up at the end of the film to do what infected/zombies are want to do (spoilers, they like to kill and eat humans), what we see are just regular people who are doing their worst zombie impressions (it's possible there might have been makeup but the scene is so poorly lit that it just looks like no makup). While it could make sense that the virus in this film isn’t creating the living dead zombies we know and love (after all, they never actually say they are zombies) and that the virus is more of a 28 Days Later thing where the infected are still alive and kicking, but the lack of make-up just looked lazy. This also creates the question of how would you know a person is infected? Granted, that concept would make an epic outbreak film filled with mystery and thrills but in Dead Weight, it just screamed that this film had no money to head on down to the Halloween Express and buy some cheap makeup. Honestly, even bad makeup would have helped because not showing any infected and then getting THAT at the end was a huge letdown to a movie that was already not doing much to get me completely invested. Now, I know that sounds super negative but, in truth, I thought it was a very interesting risk the production took by refraining from overloading the film with the infected and kept them secluded to a threat that was unseen off camera. The sad part is that the experiment failed for me.
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Infected attacking a guy or some bros getting rowdy on Thirsty Thursday?

Dead Weight, for a low budget film, isn’t totally terrible. The story had potential, there are some great actors in it, and, even though it isn’t really forging new, uncharted territory in the outbreak/zombie genre, the film does take a risk by not showing you the very threat that sets the story in motion. However, due to the limits of the budget, central actors who weren’t as good as the supporting players, a complete lack of urgency, and the disappointing reveal of the infected made the film something to watch and give a shot to but not something I ever picture me watching again.

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