Dead Weight (2012)

Description (from carryingdeadweight.com):
In the wake of an apocalyptic viral outbreak, Charlie Russell treks through the wilderness to reunite with his girlfriend, Samantha. As Charlie’s journey brings him closer to his destination of Wausau, WI, he must face physical exhaustion, malicious survivors, and perhaps most menacing, his own emotional burdens. With his newfound traveling companions, Charlie must attempt to break his obsessions with the past. He must learn to let it go.

Major Cast:
Joe Belknap as Charlie Russell, Mary Lindberg as Samantha MacReady, Michelle Courvais as Meredith, Aaron Christensen as Thomas, Sam Lenz as Dustin, Jess Ader as Drew

Special Features:
None (Screener)

Written and Directed by Adam Bartlett and John Pata

Pretty much any time you see the word “Dead” in a film’s title, especially if it is a low-budget film, you know what you’re in for: zombies. Usually it will be just a minute or two into the movie before you get someone’s guts being chomped upon, or mangled corpses shuffling away, or some other worn out trope you’ve seen (if you’re like me) a million times before. Don’t get me wrong: I love me some zombie movies; if you read my reviews then you know this to be true. However, I am always in for a little trepidation when having to review one. When done right, a zombie movie can be an amazing, though-provoking, conversation fueling, mind warping experience, but when done wrong they can really and truly suck harder than just about any other genre. So with a slight pause, I put in DEAD WEIGHT, not knowing what to expect. I’m so glad I did.

Things are going down in the Midwest…

DW is a zombie movie, yes, but not a horror. And not a comedy. It’s truly a drama, a zombie drama, and that’s something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Somewhat reminding me of NEAR DARK (a vampire movie where the word “vampire” is never uttered), DW is a completely different take on the zombie genre. Yes, no one ever says “zombie.” Hell, you don’t even get a glimpse of a zombie until the third act, and you don’t get a good view of one until the movie is almost completely over. DW is a zombie movie in the sense that the story is taking place in (and before) a world filled with zombies, but it really has little to do WITH zombies.

DW is the story of Charlie, who is fighting his way from Toledo, Ohio, to a small town in Wisconsin because that’s where he said he would meet his girlfriend. It is the story of people trying to survive, people trying hto understand how the world has changed, and people taking advantage of that new world. The scariest thing in DW is not the dead, but the living, and what the constant threat of the dead has done to the remaining living. And more so, what that threat can make an otherwise good person do. I loved this flick. It was so refreshing to see an un-zombified zombie movie, to avoid the cheap scares of gore and really deal with the deep unsettling scares that come from the psyche that has to deal with this new reality.

Wandering Wisconsin

While there was a lot to like in DW, I found the writing was especially outstanding. Bartlett and Pata have crafted a gripping story, structured through jumps between the present and flashes to Charlie and Samantha’s past. More than that, they have been able to weave a story that tells you enough of what is going on without feeling the need to really do much exposition whatsoever. There are little bits here and there, some subtle, some not so much, that let the viewer really get into the heads, hearts, and pasts of the characters on screen. They also have done an amazing job with the direction of DW. Charlie and Samantha (whose names, by the way, collectively make up a sweet little THE THING reference) are both masterfully played by newcomers (at least according to IMDb), and their performances completely sell the emotions you should be feeling. The rest of the “main” characters are also strong performances; truthfully overall there are very few actors in DW that didn’t do an amazing job.

Happier times, before the end

The visual style of the movie spoke to me as well. The present, post-apocalyptic scenes are all presented in washed out, de-saturated tones that speak to the bleakness felt by the characters, while the past is fully vibrant and shows how hopeful it used to be. The camera work overall is minimal and basic – there are no flash moves or odd angles to be found – but it works well in the context of the story. I also found myself very impressed with the sound quality. DW is one of the few low-budget movies, zombie or otherwise, that I’ve seen lately that took the time to do a really good job on the sound. There is foley, there is great dialogue production, and there is beautifully haunting music in the few instances when it makes an appearance.

While I really enjoyed DW, it was not a perfect film. There were shots here and there, like the opening shot, where DW’s digital nature made itself known. Overall the image quality is really nice, but occasionally it becomes plainly obvious that DW was shot on digital video and not film, and why this is only noticeable in a few shots I cannot say. Also, the little bit of makeup employed in the film is lacking. The dead body found in the farm looks like it had a little Halloween makeup directly from the grocery store, and when the zombies do finally make their appearance the look like… angry people. Maybe that was the point, but I guess I expect a zombie to look a little more horrible. In the grand scheme of things, these few shortcomings are very nitpicky, and take very little away from the experience.

The dead, not looking particularly scary.

Overall, DW is an amazing film. DW is an electrifying take on the zombie genre, a dark look at the inside of people’s heads, and something completely different when it comes to low-budget movies with “Dead” in the title. The story presented in DW is heavy, it is dark, and ultimately it is incredibly sad, but it is emotionally gripping and unflinchingly real. This movie will not make your average zombie fan happy; there is no gore, there are no scenes of a thousand hands trying to get in, there is very little that you would expect from a zombie movie. In the end, that’s just what makes DW so damned good. It is a zombie movie, but just barely; truly it is a character-driven drama about the lengths one will go for love and the way loss can change a person. DW needs distribution, because it needs to be seen on a much grander scale; it needs to show people that a “zombie movie” can be so much more than what is expected from the genre. Films that push boundaries like DW does are what we need to keep these genres we love, and film as a whole, fresh.

Overall 9 / 10

DW on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2094810/

DW for sale: http://headtraumaproductions.bigcartel.com/

DW site: http://www.carryingdeadweight.com

Dead Weight (2012)
Theatrical Poster
Dead Weight (2012)
DVD Cover

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