Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Terror-Fi ’22: The Civil Dead

Neither your parents or your teachers probably ever taught you the etiquette of hauntings, either for the haunted or the haunter. Maybe the Church and horror movies gave us a clue, but that was only for really adversarial hauntings. It is therefore rather understandable that Clay would be confused when his old friend Whit starts haunting him in Clay Tatum & Whitmer Thomas’s The Civil Dead, which screens during this year’s Terror-Fi.

Clay is an under-achieving photographer, who fortunately lives with his gainfully employed wife. Whit was a struggling actor, who apparently will never make it, because he is now dead. Clay is rather surprised to run across him in the park, but Whit is even more surprised, because he had resigned him self to being a spectral ghost nobody can see.

It takes a little convincing, but eventually Clay concedes nobody else can see Whit, so it sures seems like he most be dead. It is a lot to process, but Whit still latches on hard, because his is so relieved to finally have company. Somewhat ironically, Whit had ghosted Clay during their senior year of high school and Clay had largely ghosted him back after they both moved to LA, where Whit was desperate for some sort of social support, so their relationship was already awkward. Death and haunting will start to realty make it weird.

Civil Dead
is the sort of hipster horror comedy some of Onur Tukel’s darned-near unwatchable films were supposed to be, but weren’t. The screenplay, co-written by Tatum & Thomas is intensely neurotic, but there are also some genuinely creepy moments.

As fictional-meta versions of themselves, Tatum and Thomas bring a dark edginess to both Clay and Whit. As a result, our sympathies often shift as our assumptions are undermined. A fair amount of time is devoted to set-up (some of which is a bit confusing at first), but it pays-off at the end. Frankly, Tatum, who also served as director, shows quite a facility for mood and atmosphere. It might sound like a ghostly buddy comedy, but
Civil Dead definitely belongs in horror fests like Terror-Fi.

Arguably, LA is the perfect setting for a film like this, because the city is a place where people use their friends and they don’t expect their calls to be returned. It is funny, but in an angst-ridden, slackery kind of way. Recommended for its caustic humor and unsettling supernatural implications,
The Civil Dead screens tomorrow (10/27) in Wellington, 11/3 in Auckland, and 11/13 in Christchurch, as part of this year’s Terror-Fi.