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“DECAY” (Film Review)

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Joseph Wartnerchaney’s feature debut, DECAY follows the romance between a middle-aged loner, and the corpse of a local teenage girl. This concept will encourage comparisons to NEKROMANTIK, but the character Jonathan, to whom DECAY devotes its full attention, has little in common with the Crimson Climaxer of the German cult classic. Instead of dissecting a crazed necro-rapist, we are shanghaied along a one-month transformation to Jonathan’s self-awareness. These abstractions make demands from the audience that will undoubtedly frustrate certain viewers – perhaps a necrophile looking to pop in a sick flick and… crack open a cold one? On the other hand, viewers who are willing to put forth the effort may find a horror greater than the rape and murder they were likely expecting.

When he was a boy, stubbornly donning a Boy Scout uniform, Jonathan’s mother was committed to instilling fear and paranoia into him. In spite of Jonathan’s best efforts, Mother’s stringent discipline and punishments would developed into severe OCD and social anxiety. Now a sexless maintenance worker and home gardener, Jonathan lives alone, collecting keys to doors he will never open. He surrounds himself with still representations of life, from taxidermy to puppets, as staid and steadfast as Jonathan himself. In his few interactions with live-folk, Jonathan maintains his statuesque demeanor – that is, until he has a girlfriend to speak of. It is with the inclusion of this rotting teen dream that Jonathan is able to turn against a reality that’s abandoned him long ago.

To achieve this internal arch, Mr. Wartnerchaney details a world that is anatomized piecemeal, relying on set direction, lighting and camera placement to reflect his character’s development. Art-house techniques are applied, mostly as they are necessary to the narrative, along with the affiliated gross-out visuals. The camera adheres to a point of view that allows its audience to experience Jonathan’s personal growth. At the start of this journey, we suspiciously avoid strangers, and silently endure his mouthy neighbor and coworker, the only living aspects of his daily routine. As Jonathan gains awareness, so does the audience. The caring nature of his neighbor as well as the carnality of the coworker are increasingly transparent. These nuances give credence to the screenplay as well as the actors. Jonathan comes to terms with the decaying state of his love affair, while we become more acquainted with the lifelessness of his interior design. The majestic display of animal still-life is gradually eclipsed by its dullest pieces – flat duck sculptures and antlers – as the colonial woodwork delineates the prison bars from which Jonathan is desperate to break free.

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Through this lens, Jonathan is portrayed as a product of his environment. He’s trapped in his birthplace and at the mercy of his surroundings like a flower, an equally important metaphor to the director and his character. In an alluring candle-lit romance sequence, the audience is given more insight to Jonathan’s intentions and skewed reality. The corpse fills an empty space for Jonathan, the way the stores mannequin does for Will Smith in I AM LEGEND. She’s not a sex toy, but a catalyst that raises awareness to Jonathan’s own behavior and that of others, and offers an opportunity to develop his voice.

There is really no good guy/bad guy to speak of, as the conflicts are presented through the one-way dialogue of side-characters. Performances seem to vary based on the importance of the role, save for Jackie Hoffman who is proven to be a brilliant casting decision. Rob Zabrecky, famed magician and former frontman of the post punk outfit Possom Dixon, masters the role of Jonathan with tactful unease. Like the house, Jonathan’s place of employment plays an equally important character, empty attractions pining for human interaction.  There’s a bitter sense of sentimentality in these sequences that imbues Elisha Yaffe’s performance as the crass co-worker with a hint of tragedy.

There is an absurd presence lurking in the atmosphere that engenders the tension of a horror film from start to finish. However, the greater horror aforementioned comes from an internal battle known to the psych world as cognitive dissonance. It is a battle many of us face, and in Jonathan’s case, ends with the strangest boss-fight scenario of all. It is a relatable concept to necro and biophiliacs. Like Jonathan, we are often faced with acknowledging a truth beyond our core beliefs. Like Jonathan, it sometimes takes an outside source to crash into one’s conscious and make one reevaluate oneself. Contrary to many films of its kind, DECAY’s plot fosters hope in a most unlikely scenario. In the end, Jonathan finally finds the door to stick his key in, and that door is love. I don’t know, man. I really dug it.

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About the author
Steve Craig
Steve Craig is a writer, producer, director, and shameless film/music buff known for his YouTube personality, CinemanSteve, as well as in-depth interview style on the Fangoria podcast "SPLAT CHAT: On DIY Horror." Steve is currently co-directing his feature debut, "Waking Nightmare." You can reach Steve at CinemanSteve@gmail.com.
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