Written by: Joshua Klausner, Loren Semmens, and Adam Deyoe
Directed by: Adam Deyoe
Starring: James C. Burns, Scott Peat and Marissa Merrill
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
On this island, survival is no game.
I generally donít think itís fair to hold a movieís marketing against it, but forgive me for being dubious when Dead Season promises a ďriveting new spin on the zombie genre.Ē As it turns out, that declaration is pretty much the only spin to be found here since Dead Season is yet another zombie movie with a post-apocalyptic wasteland inhabited by survivors who have endured despite themselves. Scraping by is once again the name of the game for both the characters and the plucky, lo-fi film itself that does what it can to shed the stench of its obvious redundancy in what has quickly become a lifeless genre.
Elvis (Scott Peat) and Tweeter (Marissa Merrill) made it through the apocalypse, though not without losing those close to them. Now, they are each otherís lifeboat, companions out of circumstance more than anything--they have sex seemingly out of compulsion rather than out of any actual connection, and theyíve taken to caring for a young boy who also lost his family. The trio is restless and worried about their future on the mainland--supplies are wearing thin, the undead rising in greater numbers, etc., so they take off for an island off the coast of Florida that ends up being inhabited by both zombies and locals being lorded over by a de facto ruler, James Burns (Kurt Conrad).
Itís at this point that Dead Season could reveal itself to be different from its predecessors by having this be a peaceful commune full of pleasant people who just want to survive; however, it largely follows the Romero tract where Burns is pretty much playing a bit of a militant, albeit one who was once an okay guy. Now, heís twisted out of his paranoia and over protectiveness of his daughter (Corsica Wilson), who has a severe case of cabin fever. Per usual, the zombies are operating in the background, there only to provide a threat whenever the small militia leaves their safe confines to scour the surroundings. Perhaps not so usual is the mixture of running and walking undead, all of which are well-designed and made up with ghoulish effects.
Another wrinkle emerges when it turns out the survivors have to resort to cannibalism, a neat table turning concept to viscerally highlight the way humans figuratively feast upon each other during these things. Itís here that the film funnels the typical man-with-the-gun-is-king frontier mentality of many zombie films into something thatís attempting to make some comment on patriarchy. Dead Season is thankfully character driven and sketches an intriguing arc for Elvis when Burns tries to instill the same over-protectiveness in him; whereas a lot of movies degenerate into the ďgood guyĒ battling the ďbad guy,Ē Dead Season sees the two engaged in a more philosophical struggle. Caught in the middle is the filmís true main character: Tweeter, who seems to be the only clear-headed one of the bunch. Merrill is a fantastic presence in the film--tough but vulnerable, pragmatic but also idealistic in many ways. She can see storm brewing but hopes thereís eventually a break in the clouds.
Whether sheís right or not is one of the questions at the heart of Dead Season; though it mostly unfolds as a horror film and culminates in a climax thatís one part prison break, one part impressive gore demo reel (save for a few instances of computer assistance), it also manages to tell a moderately interesting story. Sure, itís pretty familiar and carries itself with the typical bleakness and seriousness of such films, but itís a scrappy, admirable effort thatís believably performed and well-crafted at times. Deyoe sometimes opts for a handheld approach that leads to some shaky compositions, but other flourishes, such as some nice time-lapse photography, reveal some beautiful, sun-kissed landscapes that belie the ugliness breeding on all corners of the island, and Louis Chalif also contributes a nice, moody score to complement the dreary, isolated setting.
Perhaps itís a little soppy, even a little sentimental and heavy-handed (one scene particularly draws a contrast between how these men used to cut into birthday cakes but now carve up bodies), but Dead Season is an agreeable enough little zombie movie that could. What it lacks in true ingenuity, it makes up for with scrappiness and one very empathetic character to center the film. Dead Season will make its home video debut on July 31st courtesy of Image Entertainment, whose DVD features a solid presentation, especially as far as the booming, immersive 5.1 surround track goes. The set of extras includes a making-of feature, some deleted scenes, outtakes, a trailer, and a filmmaker commentary. Our own cinematic dead season has labored on and on to the point of exhaustion, but movies like this prove thereís still a little life left in the genre every now and then. Rent it!
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