Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dead Weight

(Standard Cover)

(Tony Moore Cover)

Dead Weight
Movie Review by Christopher M. Becker
Written/Directed by Adam Bartlett and John Pata
Starring Joe Belknap, Mary Lindburg, Michelle Courvais, Aaron Christensen, Sam Lenz, and Jess Ader
Released by Head Trauma Productions and Gilead Media
Price - $15.00 (Standard Two-Disc Edition), $20.00 (Tony Moore Cover Edition)

            Imagine the world has been torn upside down and everything is falling apart right before your eyes, and the only thing you can think of doing and protecting is the person you love. The only problem is that person is a thousand miles away and the collapse of society means that soon they’ll be no chance for you to communicate and coordinate to ensure you’re safe. What would you do? Where would you go? And how far would you go to find the person you love, even if you don’t know if they’re alive or dead?
            Set during a viral outbreak that leaves humanity in ruins, Dead Weight is a film that not only dares to ask these questions, but also answer them in the most twisted ways possible. The story follows Charlie Russell (Joe Belknap); an average man who has spent the month since the world fell apart in search for his girlfriend, Samantha (Mary Lindburg). Prior to the outbreak, Charlie was living in Wisconsin while Samantha had taken a job in Minneapolis, leaving them in a situation that must often be discussed by the long-distance couples who fear the worst: “Where do I meet you if things fall apart?”. Being a hopeless romantic, Charlie suggested to Samantha the last time they talked to head for Wassau, as that is the town they met. In a nice nod to another movie involving a couple waiting out a doomsday scenario, the restaurant they intend to meet in is the “place that does all the fish”.
            Driven by his desire to see Samantha again, Charlie joined a group of survivors under the deception that Wassau is a confirmed safe zone. As they draw closer to their destination, Charlie must face adversity both from the hostile forces outside of the group and the insidious whispers that plague his own thoughts, picking away at his sanity. After all this time and pain, Charlie still has no idea if she is safe, or if she even reached or was heading for Wassau at all. The closer he comes to this place and the promise he constantly says it brings, more is revealed about Charlie’s relationship not only with Samantha but with his fellow survivors as well. Will the road lead Charlie to that which he has pushed towards for so long, or will his dead weight pull him down?
            Dead Weight is a brutal, stark character piece that takes what most writers and directors would have made into an optimistic, uplifting story about triumphing over adversity and the end of the world and makes it something dark and twisted. Set in and filmed in the creative team’s home state of Wisconsin, Dead Weight has a bleak beauty in the survivor scenes, which were shot in abandoned houses, empty barns, and vast tracks of snow-covered fields that lend a sense of how alone the survivors are. By comparison, the flashbacks to Charlie and Samantha’s relationship are bright, vibrant and full of life. There’s a subtle beauty to the writing and film making, as demonstrated by a very quick yet poignant conversation that manages to reveal all of a character’s backstory in just a few lines that tell the audience everything that needs to be heard without pushing it home too much. Dead Weight is all about the subtle cues, the faint glint in the eyes, the understated reactions, and passing glances into a mind that begins to unravel from stress and desire. Emotions and trusts are pulled tight and stretched to the absolute limit, threatening to snap in the most explosive way possible. Everything plays on and builds up in the minds of the characters, and by extension the viewers until not a moment goes by when either has their guard lowered.
This subtlety and tension plays through in the way the flashbacks and main story interact and coalesce. As Charlie gets closer to Wassau, his relationship with Samantha is played out in reverse chronological order. In the hands of a more conventional team, these scenes may have been played out as a romantic comedy where a quirky guy meets a career-driven woman and they try to make a long-distance relationship work, but the minds behind Dead Weight are anything but conventional. Charlie is not a child-like layabout who spends his days reading comic books and making pop culture references, although he does enjoy reading comics on his days off. Rather, he is a man who enjoys his personal status quo and does not like it when things are shaken up. Samantha moves to Minneapolis for an internship, which visibly shakes him as it would most people in a committed relationship, but when she offers to have him move for her new job – and even promises him a guaranteed new job that is the same as his one back in Wisconsin – Charlie’s reaction is that of a man who likes to have things his way or not at all. The arguments are ones that long-distant couples have had a thousand times before about where to find jobs and where to move and how they will reunite if they have been separated for prolonged periods of time. The flashbacks could very much be a movie in their own right, for they are a much more real interpretation of a loving relationship being threatened by external and internal forces.
Despite this being a low-budget independent film, no expense was spared to create high-quality work. The cinematography is excellent and as stated before, Wisconsin provides a perfect beautiful yet bleak backdrop for a beautiful yet bleak story. All of the scenes are tight and help to convey emotion. While there are instances of line-reading, most of the dialogue feels very natural and those few moments come from the bit actors who were really just regular people who still managed to pull an above-average job. The leads and the named actors are great in their roles, especially Joe Belknap as Charlie.
The music, composed by Nicholas Elert, is appropriately haunting and helps to elevate the emotion in every scene it comes into.
In a market glutton with apocalypse movies that serve as little more than political platforms for a director’s social agenda to a place where artsy filmmakers can try to show off the coolest ways to mutilate a human corpse or thrust scenes of abuse and obvious human indecencies upon the audience, Dead Weight manages to rise above the pack and become something new and unique to the genre. While many of the scenes, especially later on, are difficult to sit through and leave the audience with a feeling of discomfort, there’s a very human element behind it and we’re left wondering if we would make the same choices in such a scenario. This is a character piece through and through, and one that has no qualms about going into the darker parts of the human mind. It is stories like this one that elevate a genre above what is to be expected and presents the viewer with something so basic that is becomes profound in its simplicity.
Be warned however that while there are scenes of violence, Dead Weight is most definitely not one for people looking for another celebration of blood, violence and gore. The dialogue-heavy nature of this film may bore people who want to see infected being shot up and survivors being devoured, but there are enough tense action scenes throughout to break up the discussions. As said before, many of the later scenes are especially difficult to watch, but in the end Dead Weight is worth the price of admission and something that should have a place of honor in the collection of any post-apocalypse collection.
Before my score, feel free to watch the trailer:

Heroes – While I wouldn’t necessarily call Charlie the “hero”, he is the most interesting protagonist I’ve seen in a while – 5/5
Villains – Rather subjective and to mention them would be to give too much away. Suffice to say that a certain character could be approached as the villain – 5/5
World – Wisconsin is both a beautiful and bleak backdrop for this movie – 5/5
Cinematography – Tight, concise, and professional grade – 5/5
Science/Magic – The viral threat is left undefined and rather vague. In the special features, Adam Bartlett and John Pata both make mention of their pages of detailed notes on the virus and how it spreads, but none of it gets on the screen. It is more of an element than a focus – 3/5
Plot – A study in how what we want and need could drive us to do some rather disturbing things – 5/5
Final Score – 4.5/5 – Well worth the price of admission. The Tony Moore cover is beautiful and worth it if you feel like spending the additional $5.

No comments:

Post a Comment