Friday, November 23, 2018

BiTS ’18: Deadsight

Imagine there was a zombie apocalypse and the mega-pregnant Marge Gunderson from Fargo and blind Howard Keel from The Day of the Triffids only had each other to rely on. That is basically the premise of this new Canadian zombie-viral outbreak movie. The elements are familiar, but the Spartan intimacy makes them work once again in Jesse Thomas Cook’s Deadsight, which screens as part of this year’s Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival.

When Ben Neilson comes to, he finds he is handcuffed to an ambulance gurney and his mysteriously sightless eyes have been bandaged (always a bad sign). Somehow, he manages to send an SOS from the radio, but only Mara Madigan receives it, in a partial, garbled form. She is just starting what is supposed to be the last day before her pregnancy leave, so she is still unaware of the zombie outbreak underway.

Eventually, Neilson and Madigan will come together in a farm house not so very different from the one we all vividly remember from the original Night of the Living Dead, but she remains justifiably suspicious of Neilson, due to the conspicuous cuffs. It is pretty clear to Madigan staying in the farmhouse is not a sustainable option, but that means she will have to make some pretty hard moral choices.

So yes, zombie fans have been down this road before, but there is something very honest and potent about Cook’s stripped-down approach and Liv Collins & Kevin Revie’s screenplay. Thanks to cinematographer Jeff Maher, it all looks suitably bleak and Canadian. As Madigan and Neilson, screen-writer Collins and Adam Seybold feel like real people, caught in a really, really bad situation. We buy into them, even when Neilson survives through sheer blind luck, so to speak. They are terrific together and Ry Barrett is highly disturbing (in an impressive way), as another survivor Neilson has the questionable fortune to meet.

Cook has been quite the busy bee, not only helming Deadsight, but also co-directing The Hoard with Matt Wiele, who is on-board here as a producer. They are very different films, but together they are quite a one-two-punch to look out for. Enthusiastically recommended, Deadsight screens this Sunday (11/25) during BiTS 2018, in Toronto.