Thursday, November 21, 2019

BiTS ’19: Dead D*cks

Richie is not a vampire, but he is the sort of real-life monster who can suck the life out of the people around him. His little sister Becca has been his primary victim and enabler. She has put her life on hold to deal with his mental health and substance abuse issues. Just when she thinks her brother can’t shock her anymore, she finds herself face-to-face with two versions of Richie—one naked and alive, the other dead and clothed. She is in for an even more chaotic night than usual in Chris Bavota & Lee Paula Springer’s Dead D*cks, which screens during this year’s Blood in the Snow Film Festival.

Becca had been thrilled by her acceptance into a graduate nursing program, but she was unsure how to break the news to Richie. Then she walked into this mess. As Richie semi-coherently explains, he kind-of, sort-of died by misadventure, but returned via the awkwardly shaped portal that mysteriously appeared in his bedroom. In fact, he quite irresponsibly repeated the process a few times—just to see. That leaves several dead bodies for Becca to clean up before Matt, the irate downstairs neighbor, calls the cops and the landlord.

Dead D*cks is a thoroughly original genre film, but the terrible title is totally misleading. This is not some kind of beer-swilling lad comedy with clones. There is a fair amount of black humor, but it is deadly serious in the way it presents the impact of mental illness and addiction on close family members. Yet, there is no suggestion any of this is the product of symbolism-heavy delusion. The fantastical stuff is very real in-world and it becomes steadily more real as the full truth is revealed.

Jillian Harris creates a harrowing portrait of emotional exhaustion and paralyzing guilt as long-suffering Becca. Likewise, Heston Horwin is so relentlessly convincing as Richie, the manipulative basket case, most viewers will want to throttle him with their bare hands (but you can’t say his performance isn’t effective). Special mention must also go out to Matt Keyes, who adds surprisingly humanizing hints of empathy to the otherwise sick-and-tired namesake neighbor. He gets some laughs and really helps keep things real (at least until they go off-the-hook crazy).

Admittedly, Bavota & Springer somewhat paint themselves into a corner, which forces a clunky dismount, but let’s be honest: truly great endings are rare in horror and related genres. It is much more profitable to focus on the 98% of DD’s that is fresh, sharp, and original. It is small in scale, but it is still a bold film that definitely announces a filmmaking tandem to follow in the future. Very highly recommended, Dead D*cks screens Saturday (11/23), during BiTS ’19.