Dead Weight (2012)
Review by Jude Felton
Back in February of 2008 I paid a visit to the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors, in the windy city of Chicago. Aside from having a quite terrific time, I also happened across a booth that was promoting a short zombie flick entitled Better off Undead. Being the curious sort that I am I decided to pick up a copy, along with a funky t-shirt, and have a gander at this short (29 min) movie. The result of this being that I was surprisingly impressed; it was a fun movie, which had a lot of energy and some obvious talent behind it.
The director of Better off Undead was Wisconsin resident, John Pata, and between 2009 and early 2012, he, along with his writing and directing partner Adam Bartlett, set about creating their feature length debut. The resulting movie is the one I am reviewing now, Dead Weight, and aside from it also being a post (and pre) apocalyptic tale, it is miles away from Pata’s earlier short. The differences are not limited to the running time either, with the tone, atmosphere and overall craftsmanship being a completely different beast. Dead Weight is a dramatic horror movie that is truly something quite special.
The tale follows Charlie who, after an epidemic hits the States, arranges to meet up with his girlfriend. So begins a monumental road trip, which rarely travels down said roads, in which Charlie has banded together with some other survivors, in order to reach his loved one.
Rather than letting the story unfold in a purely linear fashion, the film flicks back and forth in time, revealing more of Charlie’s backstory, whilst also focusing on his mission at hand. The contrasts between the two times are incredibly effective and serve to heighten the quite bleak and inhospitable world in which he now finds himself.
The film could be loosely classified as a zombie movie, although to be fair that would really sell Dead Weight short. The infected, of whom Charlie and his fellow travelers seek to avoid, only really make an appearance very late on in the movie, while the story instead focuses on Charlie’s plight. This is a very human film, and it aims to show us how we as people change under such harsh conditions. Every brother and his mother shouts about how they would kick ass if the undead ever did rise up and take over, but this film puts a much more realistic approach on how we, as people, would react. The emotions are there for all to see, and the shocking repercussions of actions and reactions are never hidden away; this is a stark reality that hits with great resonance.
Watching Dead Weight I couldn’t but help see similarities to other post-apocalyptic films, such as The Road, which is certainly not a bad thing at all. Plot-wise though there is plenty going on here to keep this fresh, and the fact that is was shot for a fraction of that film’s budget by friends and colleagues only serves to impress me more. Don’t be fooled though, just because this is a small independent movie does not mean that it does not have absolutely production values and a quite superb cast. Pata and Bartlett have utilized the Wisconsin landscape, and weather, to perfection, giving this film the look it deserves, and the cast more than ably back this up.
Joe Belknap, as Charlie, is terrific and delivers a performance of wonderful contrast; from a carefree, almost slacker-like existence, to a nervous, desperate and almost broken man, he is quite excellent. He is more than ably supported by the rest of the cast, in particular one Aaron Christensen as Thomas, who is the sense of firm, almost brutish, humanity in the group. As I mention though, all are terrific, from the leads through to the bit players.
Dead Weight is gorgeous to look and packs a heavy emotional punch. It managed to surprise me, by never taking the easy options in terms of the plot, and left me feeling drained by the time the credits role. It is quite an excellent film.
The film is available on a 2 disc set, including a limited edition version (which I will be purchasing) and contains a shit-ton of extras. Don’t worry about trying to rent this film, just do yourself a favor and buy a copy. I think you’ll be glad you did.
Dead Weight is available on DVD from the film's Official Site.