“DEAD BODY” (NYC Horror Film Fest Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
While some might argue that the “whodunit?”-style of storytelling may be outdated, this writer would argue that not only is the structure relevant but also woefully underutilized. A precursor to the slasher film, “whodunit?” mysteries can be just as effective when applied to the horror genre as it is when applied to noirs and thrillers, especially when a film provides reasonable doubt for as many characters as possible. Luckily, DEAD BODY does just that, providing the genre’s strongest and most brutal “whodunit?” in recent memory, rife with excellent performances and jaw-dropping FX to sell the scares full-stop.
For those unfamiliar, DEAD BODY follows a group of friends who decide to party one last time before shipping off to college. As the party dies down, one friend recommends that they revive the party with a game of DEAD BODY, a parlor game in which a designated “murderer” tries to find hiding players until someone finds a “body” and the “survivors” try to deduce the murderer. However, in the third round of the game, they discover that an actual murder has occurred and the friends begin to turn on each other as bodies begin to pile up.
Perhaps DEAD BODY’s greatest asset is that the narrative treats as many characters as possible as three-dimensional characters, fleshing out each potential suspect as someone you can root for to either survive or, at the very least, not be the killer. In this sense, DEAD BODY also offers a fair amount of suspense in creating interpersonal tension, especially in a film where unsteady allegiances and suspicions can change at the drop of a hat. And while some might be able to figure out the killer’s identity before the third-act reveal, the fact that the film can keep you guessing until a character is permanently removed from the suspect list is a feat unto itself.
Luckily, DEAD BODY works as well as it does thanks to confident, performance-conscious direction from first-time feature helmer Bobbin Ramsey. Working from an engaging and eerie script co-written by producers Ramon Isao & Ian Bell, Ramsey does a phenomenal job of creating a tense atmosphere from the limited locations at hand while giving each actor room to breathe and make the character their own. Ramsey, however, also makes DEAD BODY visually engaging by trusting her behind-the-camera collaborators as well: the cinematography from Anthony J. Rickert-Epstein bolsters the scary mood of the film tenfold, while the Shane Saucedo’s FX work is nothing short of stunning, especially as Ramsey keeps a steady, unwavering eye on the practical work.
However, DEAD BODY also works due to the solid, complementary work of its mostly-unknown cast, all of whom sell their various character dynamics with flying colors. Rachel Brun brings a surprisingly human quality to the lead character, offering someone much more vulnerable, flawed and ill-equipped than the standard female horror protagonist. In fact, one shouldn’t be surprised if you see flourishes of people that we all grew up with in the cast, adding a sense of realism to otherwise archetypal roles, whether it be Nic Morden’s misunderstood outcast, Nathan Pringle’s wiry stoner, Cooper Hopkin’s defensive “bro”, Spencer Hamp’s pining nice guy, Leah Pfenning’s cynical best friend or Jay Myer’s snarky perfectionist. Sadly, Miho Aizawa & Koe Sakuta get the short end of the stick as exchange students whose on-screen time reflects their limited relevance to the narrative.
Overall, DEAD BODY is a crowd-pleasing murder mystery that will keep fright fans guessing while providing plenty of bloody goodness along the way. With stellar direction, a clever script, damn fine FX and sharp visuals, DEAD BODY makes for a memorably macabre “whodunit?” that embraces the genre elements at hand while building characters you actually care about. It’s a genuinely smart, scary and refreshing film, and there’s little doubt DEAD BODY won’t leave a wicked grin on the face of those willing to play along with its grim game.