Studio: Horizon Movies
Director: Adam Bartlett, John Pata
Writer: Adam Bartlett, John Pata
Producer: Adam Bartlett, Dan Kiggins, Lee Marohn, John Pata
Stars: Joe Belknap, Mary Lindberg, Michelle Courvais, Aaron Christensen, Sam Lenz, Jess Ader, Matty Field, Jake Martin, Mark Muetzel, Steve Herson
After civilization is overrun by the infected, a long distance relationship is tested by a young couple struggling to reunite.
“Dead Weight” is a micro-budget homebrew effort that would handily take top prize in a festival of grad student thesis films, if that were what it is. Regrettably, it falls short of being recommendation worthy when considered on a professionally accomplished level. Though it is not for lack of trying.
With civilization overrun by infected after an unspecified disaster, Toledo-based Charlie and his Minneapolis-based girlfriend Samantha embark on separate paths planned to meet in the middle. The present day portion concentrates on Charlie’s physical journey on foot, as well as the personal journey in his character. Interspersed throughout the usual vignettes of food scavenging, suspicion of strangers, and wilderness survival are flashbacks highlighting the young couple’s relationship history.
“Dead Weight” stays away from the whats and whys behind how things came to be so dire. Infected humans appear in only two scenes throughout the entire 90 minutes, so anyone looking for a rip-roaring zombie fest can look somewhere else. It would have really been something had filmmakers Adam Bartlett and John Pata been able to avoid showing the infected altogether, although the two places they are used are necessary. With the movie going over an hour without so much as an undead growl, “Dead Weight” seemed poised for noteworthiness by almost becoming the first zombie movie to never actually include a zombie.
Dubbing something a “zombie movie” because of a post-apocalyptic setting is an oversimplification anyway. “Dead Weight” is a drama using the backdrop to combine a survival tale and a love story. Just like the nonexistent reanimated corpses, do not confuse that description as meaning the movie includes schmaltz or sentimentality. Charlie and Samantha’s long-distance relationship may be running a gauntlet of adversity like no other, but the real theme is about how desperation in extreme circumstances evolves, or devolves, human behavior.
Nothing in “Dead Weight” can be called out as particularly bad per se, merely amateur. There is so much passion, sincerity, and unripened talent onscreen that having to criticize the film’s roughness is heartbreaking. The bitter reality though, is that similarly reduced-scope indie efforts like “State of Emergency” (review here) and “The Battery” (review here) have more effectively managed to break their limitations and equal their bigger budget competition.
Not for a second is there a thought that any one of the actors is not giving it his/her best effort. They simply lack the chops to strike a real resonance. The technical capabilities of the film are constantly butting heads against the ambition. This leaves the audience on the outside looking in, always aware that “Dead Weight” is a green little movie and not a grandly immersive experience.
Charlie and Samantha trip off the starting block. The script makes a creative decision to tell the parallel tale of their pre-catastrophe courtship in reverse. It is theoretically a nifty idea to have the conclusion of the couple’s story arrive at the same time as the beginning. In practice, the technique removes the viewer from being on the same arc as the central figures. Out that same window then goes the ability to feel a meaningful bond with them.
At the outset, it is not even clear that Charlie and Samantha are dating. The opening scene shows Charlie ignoring Samantha’s cell phone call when he has nothing better going on than a bowl of cereal in spoiled milk and an old issue of “Fear Agent” in his lap. Samantha ends her message on an “I love you” before the scene confusingly shows her in what looks like a home with another man. Without foreknowledge of who these people are to one another, they could be mistaken for brother and sister.
Since the story starts at a time when Charlie is rooted in deepening apathy over his geographical distance from Samantha, he comes off as a bit of an ass. The later character development that is the film’s strongest talking point could have been a breathtaking gut-punch had Charlie not already been shown as predisposed to selfish behavior.
By the time everything “Dead Weight” wants to say and do is out in the open, it is too late to see the characters or the movie outside of initial perceptions. The rest of the film is then resigned to being a condensed, albeit mostly adequate examination of one small pocket in a large world gone mad.
Calibrate expectations appropriately and there is much to be admired and appreciated. In light of “Dead Weight” being a commercially released production however, giving it a free pass for effort alone does not wash.
If “Dead Weight” were a movie made by your friends, you could tell them that they did a great job and it would not be a lie. But that is exactly what “Dead Weight” comes across as: a movie made by a group of your friends. And I am not sure that can be considered favorably even as backhanded praise.
Review Score: 55