Grimmfest 2019: SHE NEVER DIED (2019)

She Never Died.jpg

Studio:      A71 Productions
Director:    Audrey Cummings
Writer:      Jason Krawczyk
Producer:  Jennifer Mesich
Stars:     Olunike Adeliyi, Peter MacNeill, Kiana Madeira, Michelle Nolden, Noah Danby, Ajuawak Kapashesit, Lawrence Gowan

Review Score:

80.jpg

Summary:

A grizzled detective, a suicidal misfit, and an immortal cannibal form an unlikely alliance to take down a sadistic human trafficking ring.


Synopsis:     

Grimmfest Film Festival Review:

“He Never Died” (review here) holds a special place in my horror loving heart, although not for typical reasons. In its wake, the 2015 film starring Henry Rollins inspired extensive online debate regarding who the movie’s mysterious ‘Goatee Man’ was supposed to be. For some reason probably related to Google search rankings, my review became a place for people to comment and pull summary sentences from in their armchair investigations to uncover the truth. The ‘Goatee Man’ brought in an anomalous number of clicks as a result, so I’m indebted to him for that inadvertent uptick in traffic.

As for the movie itself, which was both written and directed by Jason Krawczyk, I can’t say it particularly bowled me over. Rollins’ monotone sullenness and an unhurried pace took “He Never Died” from droll to dull in a hurry. Whatever comedic commentary Krawczyk intended to inject in his off-kilter fairy tale of an immortal vampire got lost in the yawns of senior citizen bingo games, diner dates, and other ephemera of arguable entertainment value. It says something that amidst Rollins’ performance, talk of a TV series, and aspiring auteur artistry, the identity of an ancillary character became the thing that intrigued viewers the most.

It’s curious that it took an outsider’s eye to divine the true texture “He Never Died” couldn’t quite convey. Jason Krawczyk returns to write the sequel “She Never Died,” but Audrey Cummings of “Berkshire County” (review here) and “Darken” (review here) takes over directing duties.

You’d think Krawczyk would have the best handle on his own material. Comparing the two films side by side however, Cummings’ cinematic styling appears more fully equipped to put a firmer finger on the tricky tone “He Never Died” flirted with, but kept subdued to the point of being unseen.

In some ways, it seems as though Krawczyk might intentionally be attempting to improve on the pieces that built the first film, making “She Never Died” a bit of a redo. Although another invulnerable flesh-eater assumes Henry Rollins’ place as the focal point, “She Never Died” revisits similar beats in terms of settings, archetypes, and moody musings on life, death, and spirituality.

Also akin to its predecessor, “She Never Died” undresses an askew atmosphere that will certainly not suit everyone’s tastes. This take on that mildly offbeat world just happens to hypnotize me more than “He Never Died” does.

“She Never Died” is a calm, cool, collected movie bordering on pure character showcase. It’s so casual that it took nearly twenty minutes of average ambling before I finally figured out the film. It means to be snidely humorous through the almost undetectable dryness of beach sand in July heat. “He Never Died” tried something similar, but “She” more successfully slathers wry comedy in grey gloom to keep its quirk subtle, yet strong. Only occasionally does the soundtrack step in with music cues to help loosen the melancholy mood directly.

Whatever you do, do not expect a Henry Rollins redux. Olunike Adeliyi has her own strange take on un-killable cannibal Lacey, a homeless nomad with a ‘Harry’s Code’ that compels her to satisfy her hunger for humans by targeting terrible criminals. Like a lot of “She Never Died,” Lacey takes some getting used to before you can tune into what Adeliyi goes for. She carries attitudinal fierceness, but also an eccentric vacancy in her robotic stare. For someone who has lived for centuries, Lacey behaves like she’s figuring everything out for the first time, like knowing how to dial a payphone without knowing how to hang up on a call. It’s bizarre, but eventually plays into the bigger picture of peculiarity “She Never Died” quietly paints.

Where “He Never Died” had hollow holes in a roster that wasn’t up to Rollins as an actor or as a fully formed character, “She Never Died” upgrades its supporting cast to provide personality Lacey can’t. Peter MacNeill plays a hardboiled gumshoe teaming with Lacey to take down a kidnapping ring. Kiana Madeira’s reformed misfit redirects her street-smart resourcefulness as she follows Lacey around like a lapdog, much to Lacey’s clenched teeth chagrin. Noah Danby emerges as a charmingly unsettling villain with crooked smiles to match his sinister sadism.

They’re all slight stereotypes, yet every actor applies a fresh hook to make everyone unique. Individually they may seem like different pages, but they undeniably belong to the same book.

“She Never Died’s” slyness starts with Jason Krawczyk’s smartly written script. Wise words dot dialogue with sharp bites, cheeky conversations, and thematic purpose that waits until the end before straying into interpretive obliqueness. Thoughtful performances put those nuances into people populating a slightly sideways place that director Audrey Cummings shapes into something strangely engaging in its understated simplicity.

Be careful with “She Never Died.” Before your antenna can find its finicky frequency, which probably won’t come immediately anyway, you have to first be amenable to the movie not emulating impressions of the previous film. It might even be optimal to view “She Never Died” as a wholly standalone feature, which any newcomer can easily do. It’s an updated, unusual experience in abnormality whose mundane moments are punctuated by sparks of savage horror and slow strokes of deadpan humor.

If nothing else, now we can shift the ‘Goatee Man’ conversation to ask, who is the ‘Man in the Hat?’

Review Score: 80