Studio: Raven Banner Releasing
Director: Peter Ricq
Writer: Philippe Ivanusic-Vallee, Davila LeBlanc, Peter Ricq
Producer: Amber Ripley
Stars: Matthew Nelson-Mahood, Lizzie Boys, Gabriel LaBelle, Donavon Stinson, Valerie Tian, Lauren Holly
Three teens and a drunken father on a cabin getaway discover their mysterious neighbor is harboring a house full of zombies.
Cabin getaways in horror movies never go well. There’s always a crazy person, a creature, or in Jason’s case, both.
He left behind his bickering parents to take a woodland trip with his prankster pal Colin, Colin’s “I want to be one of the guys” dad Roger, Roger’s latest fling Lisa, and Colin’s tomboy sister Summer, for whom Jason holds a candle burning brighter than the sun. Best-laid plans of boozing for the adults and trickery in the trees for the teens are going up in smoke however, now that they know what is going on nearby.
A mysterious neighbor just brought home two drunken young men from the café in town. Jason, Colin, and Summer stumble upon the secluded house thinking they’re about to spy on a threesome. They get eyefuls of something more surprising when the two men collapse from drugged wine and the woman unlocks a chained door.
It turns out the neighbor doesn’t live alone, except her husband and kids are undead. Feeding time for this family means fleeing time for the teen trio. They beat feet back to their cabin but with Roger three sheets to the wind, dad doesn’t fully grasp the cannibalistic chaos that the kids are screaming about. An already intense situation just became a bigger problem, causing Jason to wonder if he might have been better off at home.
The humorous horror of “Dead Shack” has a fair bit of heart. The movie’s mood uses a bit of boyish buoyancy from the cute crush causing Jason to blushingly stammer, and from the smartass charm of Colin, the kind of kid who unironically ensures Jason understands that the text he sent earlier depicted an ejaculating penis. The tree limb doesn’t hang too high from the apple. Colin’s dad Roger is equally eager to be acknowledged for irreverence, making for a quirky family dynamic where a fart on the face is another way to say, “I love you.”
Donavon Stinson plays Roger like Bobby Moynihan's "Drunk Uncle," yet with more of a fumbling, fatherly frat boy attitude. All three of the teens fit their personas perfectly, though Lizzie Boys looks so much like Anna Paquin, it’s impossible to not think about the resemblance every time she is onscreen. Top name Lauren Holly doesn't turn in her strongest work as the neighbor, however. Holly's character spends much of the movie beneath a welding mask and body armor, so it probably isn't even her for many of those minutes.
“Dead Shack” leaves plenty of room for ghoulish gore once biting time begins. Copious black blood accompanies smashed heads and shotgun-blasted bodies for outrageous explosions that are graphic while still being comically fun.
Don’t expect a raucous riot along the lines of “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” (review here) or “Zombieland” though. “Dead Shack” has a more casual approach to its shambling corpse comedy, which mostly comes courtesy of smirking situational dialogue that is amusing as opposed to laugh out loud hilarious.
This is where “Dead Shack” treads a lot of water without swimming strongly in its comedic current. “Dead Shack” isn’t a lazily made effort by a long shot. Yet there is a lackadaisical energy on the humor half in need of more zomberrific zip.
The movie isn’t mistuned so much as not necessarily tuned at all. Characters present many of their quips straight, and get good gags out of general goofiness. Affable acting just doesn’t see much support from the film’s tone or timing, which strangely sticks to a subdued stride.
One sore thumb standout is an electronic soundtrack from indie duo Humans, one half of which is “Dead Shack” director Peter Ricq. Synth scores are a resurging rage in genre entertainment, but they fit best in films like “The Void” (review here) or “The Mind’s Eye” (review here), where John Carpenter tones are in play elsewhere onscreen. “Dead Shack” doesn’t fill that bill, so its restrained strains slow down the film’s rhythm through sound.
Several of the heart-to-heart throughlines aren’t seen all the way through either. Jason’s crush on Summer has legs for a few setups in act one, then vanishes into unresolved irrelevance once the dead walk. A mid-movie monologue about Colin's personal woes at home also runs into a wall. In addition to being plugged into an odd interlude, this thread dangles until a climax where its emotional resonance misses the intended mark.
"Dead Shack" has the DNA to be a funnier, and more frightful, film than it is. Each element simply seems to be working from slightly different style scripts. Caught in a middle zone that doesn't quite master any of the trades tried, the movie makes more for average entertainment than for a zomcom classic.
Review Score: 60