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1 Dead Dog

Posted October 24, 2020 By Curiosity Inc.

1 Dead Dog is a slasher comedy set in a log cabin out in Black Butte. For those who aren’t from Oregon, that’s a vacation resort out in Central Oregon, just outside of Bend. I’ve always been more partial to the nearby Sunriver, but I digress.

Yes, this is another indie movie set and shot in my home state. I don’t recognize anyone in the cast or crew, save for writer/director/producer/cameo player Rollyn Stafford, yet another acquaintance of mine from the local Portland theatre scene. There’s my full disclosure. Let’s move on.

(Side note: I met Rollyn through his girlfriend, who gets obligingly name-dropped in the film. Don’t think I missed that, pal.)

The story concerns two brothers, Treacy and Noah, respectively played by Daniel Timothy Treacy and Brian Sutherland. The two of them head out for a weekend, bonding at the cabin their dad built out in Black Butte. While they’re out there, they plan to bury the eponymous family dog, who passed away about a month prior. The vacation is complicated by the discovery of a squatter (Emily, played by Meagan Karimi-Naser) who somehow broke into the cabin and made herself at home just before the rightful owners arrived.

The kicker: All three of these characters are accomplished serial killers.

Let’s take a closer look at the characters in question, shall we? Treacy is a socially inept loner. His face is stuck in a perpetual blank stare and he speaks in terse sentences with a soft monotone voice. Noah, on the other hand, acts and talks like your perfectly sensible average suburban guy. (He doesn’t have any kids, but he and his wife are apparently trying.) And then we have Emily, who’s cute as the proverbial button, relentlessly chipper and excessively talkative, asking way more questions than she probably should.

In short, what we’ve got here are three wildly different characters stuck together under one roof. A classic premise for comedy, as there’s so much potential for the three of them to mix and clash. And with the knowledge that all three are seasoned cut-throats, there’s always the possibility of bloody violence if and when the arguments get really bad.

This brings me to the pitch-black comedy on offer, particularly with regards to the bodies that pile up. Treacy responds to a dead body with his creepily uncanny calm. Emily is the type who will look at a dead body and break into a great big smile. As for Noah, he’s the type to be more preoccupied with cleaning up the blood and disposing of the body before it leaves a mess. In every case, it’s all about the understated and unusual response to something so creepy and disgusting as a dead body. The contrast — and the comic timing — make for some delectable dark humor.

And of course it can’t be ignored that most (though certainly not all) of the murder victims are totally unsympathetic. The filmmakers are clearly counting on our enjoyment in watching assholes getting brutally slain. Your mileage may vary with regards to weighing the comedy versus the morality of the conceit, but it’s a time-honored premise for dark comedy and it works.

And then of course we have the odd bit of innocent humor sprinkled here and there. My personal favorite is the line “I will let you pick Oddjob the next time we play Goldeneye.” I know that line won’t make any sense to anyone who isn’t a millennial, but since I am, I personally love it. And again, the more innocuous jokes like that are even more sickly hilarious against the backdrop of dead bodies.

Although the slasher comedy conceit is the movie’s selling point, the filmmakers don’t skimp on character development or drama. After all, two of the main characters are brothers on wildly different life paths, and they both have a lot of unresolved childhood issues. That’s not even getting started on Noah’s inherent distrust of Emily, or whatever possible attraction might be going on between Emily and Treacy.

Most importantly of all, as much as these characters may talk freely and get to know each other, the filmmakers never let us forget that they’re homicidal maniacs. Ergo, they are broken people. They all have serious mental/emotional issues that they talk through and work out with each other. It’s really kind of touching, in a demented sort of way.

On a technical note, I’ve got to say this is one of the better-looking indie films I’ve seen in a long time. The camerawork and lighting are professional quality. In particular, the switch from tripod to handheld camerawork in the third act is extremely savvy and exquisitely done. The editing could be a little tighter in places, but it’s still passable. The score sounds pretty cheap, though.

Are there any nitpicks? Well, the film is inherently limited due to the nature of shoestring budget indie films — otherwise, I expect the body count would’ve been a lot higher and the kills would’ve been more spectacular. But by far the bigger problem is the underwhelming climax. I expected a film with this premise to build up to something a lot more violent and bloody. Instead, all we get are a couple of shouting matches that are quickly resolved. It’s not terrible, and it fits well enough in tone with the rest of the movie, but I get the sense that the filmmakers should’ve gone a lot farther, and probably would have if the budget allowed.

Overall, I had a delightful time watching 1 Dead Dog. It’s funny, it’s endearing, it’s well-acted, and it’s quirky in a charming way without veering into anything avant-garde or pretentious. It’s an indie film that makes up for its own limitations with creativity, a wickedly demented sense of humor, and solid production value.

So, when and where can you see it? I’m afraid I don’t know. I reached out to Rollyn, and he informed me that the film doesn’t have an official release date yet. It’s still on the festival circuit, and actually doing quite well. Just in the past couple of months, the film won Best Comedy Feature at the Visions Film Festival in Rekjavik, and Meagan Karimi-Naser took home the Best Actress award at the Killer Valley Horror Film Festival in Ashland.

I presume this is one of those times when distributors are watching the online reactions to gauge any potential interest in the film. So if you want to know more about the film, I’d direct you to the IMDb page, Rollyn’s website, and of course the usual social media outlets. Leave a comment, send some e-mails, and let them know who sent you.

Rebecca (2020)

Posted October 24, 2020 By Curiosity Inc.

With any new adaptation of a work that’s already been adapted, there’s always an important question that must be addressed: “Why now?” What can a new cast and crew bring to the table that nobody else has? What new perspectives are available now that weren’t there before?

Obviously, the question becomes far more pertinent when the previous adaptation was Rebecca (1940), a veritable classic made by Alfred Hitchcock himself.

For the uninitiated, Rebecca (2020) is the latest adaptation of the 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier. It tells the story of an unnamed narrator (here played by Lily James) who falls in love with the wealthy Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). The two marry and move to de Winter’s ancestral home in Manderley. Trouble is, de Winter was recently widowed and everyone is skittish on the subject of his late wife, the eponymous Rebecca.

So, getting back to the initial question, “Why now?” Well, due to Hollywood censorship policies of the time, the 1940 film adaptation slightly changed the ending so that Rebecca’s death was more accidental in nature. The modern adaptation shifted the ending back into something closer to the source material.

Otherwise, there’s not much here that’s particularly new or noteworthy. At the end of the day, the previous adaptation was directed by one of the greatest and most influential auteurs in cinema history, and this adaptation was directed by the guy who made Free Fire.

I have no problem singling out director Ben Wheatley as the key reason why this doesn’t work, because everything else seems to be in place. Of course we already know the source material can make for great cinema, that’s been proven. Lily James and Armie Hammer are both so smoldering that they easily sell two romantic leads who go from strangers to spouses within a month. In the supporting cast, Kristin Scott Thomas (here playing Mrs. Danvers) is a seasoned talent and Sam Riley was superbly cast as a dashing mysterious rogue.

In terms of visuals, everything looks fine. The sets look good (though I could swear Netflix reused some of the sets from Enola Holmes), and the costumes are all solid. The editing is nicely disconcerting in places, and the shadow-drenched camerawork is fine in theory.

Somehow, none of it all came together. And I couldn’t really figure out why until the third act.

What we’ve got here is a young woman who marries way above her social standing, her husband is a Byronic hero undone by the terrible secret involving his first wife, and the story ends with his house burning down. Of course I’m not saying that “Rebecca” is a rip-off or a retread of “Jane Eyre”, but I’m sure you can see the superficial similarities.

I confess that I haven’t seen the Hitchcock original, but I have seen Jane Eyre (2011), and I can tell you why that movie worked while this one didn’t.

Something else that both stories have in common is their inherently gothic nature. Both stories are highly melodramatic, especially once we get the big reveal. And Jane Eyre (2011) leaned into that melodrama in a way that Rebecca (2020) never did.

Easily the most prominent case in point is Mrs. Danvers, a character whose actions and motivations turn out to be over-the-top psychotic. Alas, the film’s more dull and grounded tone prevent Kristin Scott Thomas from swinging for the fences and playing Danvers as a batshit archvillain like the character was clearly designed for.

This is especially strange upon the recollection of Mrs. Van Hopper, our narrator’s former employer, played by Ann Dowd. The character is played here as a straight-up evil stepmother archetype against Lily James’ Cinderella (if you’ll pardon the reference), and the whole first act unabashedly plays out as a melodramatic fairy tale. (Complete with a lampshade by Mrs. Van Hopper herself.) The filmmakers could’ve easily built on that for the rest of the film, making the rest of the movie just as dark as the first act was bright. Why the hell they didn’t, I couldn’t tell you.

Even with all the oppressive shadows and perturbing dream sequences, the filmmakers simply can’t sell the gothic atmosphere of the setting or the psychological tension of the story. Never once did I feel like Rebecca was a constant offscreen presence, like her ghost was hovering just out of frame, and that’s a crucial factor in getting this premise to work. What may be worse, the movie fails to make any kind of timely or coherent statement with regards to family, grief, justice, etc. While we do get a few threads of potential themes, none of them are pulled together into anything strong enough to keep the momentum going.

The end result is a slog of a second act. None of the unfolding events seem to carry any weight. Our protagonist shows virtually zero agency. Everyone dances around the terrible secret of what happened to Rebecca, even though there doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason to keep the secret and no urgent reason for why Narrator would need to know.

Rebecca (2020) isn’t subtle or cunning enough to work as a psychological thriller, and it’s not over-the-top enough to work as an effective melodrama. The actors are all wonderful and they’re clearly giving it their all, but they’re hamstrung at every turn by the misguided tone and direction. There’s nothing in the themes or the presentation to make the story new or relevant to a modern audience.

The end result evens out to an unremarkable poorly-paced misfire. Not recommended.