★★ out of ★★★★★
“Don’t spend it all in one place” applies to movies, too.
Ah, the anthology movie. When done right (a la V/H/S (2012)), combining a bunch of horror shorts into a feature-length film and tying them together with an umbrella story of some kind can be fun to watch. It’s often a satisfying smörgåsbord of different writers and directors bringing their own style and flair to the table. When done wrong, though, it can be like the end of the day at a cheap buffet; nothin’ but congealing meat and limp lettuce.
With Dead List, writing and directing the various segments as well as the overarching storyline was shared by Holden Andrews, Ivan Asen, and Victor Mathieu. We also have Victor to blame for the movie’s main theme music but, thankfully, we don’t have to sit through that very often.
The movie starts out with a jogging woman [Jenna Stone; Mercenaries (2014), Huff (2013)] being chased by something that sounds large and growly. You never get to see it — which, incidentally, must’ve been the mantra for most of this film — but eventually it catches her, pulls her off-screen (#YouNeverGetToSeeIt), and she dies. The camera finds her again laying on top of some playground equipment drizzled with the usual mixture of corn syrup and red food coloring. Who was she? We have no idea. Does the opening sequence ever get explained or have anything to do with the rest of the movie? Not really.
The woman does die with a glowing symbol on her skin. The same symbol you can see in the movie poster above. So, it’s possible the filmmakers were trying to give the audience a heads up that people marked with the symbol are doomed to die. Which is actually how it works in the rest of the movie, but there are much better ways to introduce that idea than killing some anonymous jogger that nobody really cares about. For instance, how about just start the movie? We’re all smart people. Once people start dying with that weird, glowing symbol on them, it wouldn’t be a big leap to make the connection. Give your audience some credit. Jeez.
In any case, once the movie really begins, we’re disjointedly introduced to a group of actors who are all trying out for a role in a Scorsese film. Cal [Deane Sullivan; Life of the Party: Vol. II (2010)], our main protagonist, is up against fellow actors Scott [Nick Bandera], Zander [Matt Fowler], Jason [Eric Pierce], Bob [Josh Eichenbaum], and Kush [Rob Healy]. While Cal might not be the best actor of the group, he is the only one who had a funky evil book flap its covers and fly onto the windshield of his car. By jotting down the names of the other actors in the magical flying book, Cal’s chances of getting the part in the Scorsese movie get better and better.
Namely because his competition starts dying in odd and gruesome ways. Well, they’re gruesome if you use your imagination. #YouNeverGetToSeeIt
That’s also where the anthology comes in. Each actor competing with Cal for the part gets his own short horror “film” showing how he dies. I hesitate to call them short films as none of them would stand on their own without the overarching story. Truth be told, a couple of them can barely stand up with the support of the main storyline (I’m looking at you Zander and Scott). However, almost every one is different and the filmmakers do try to keep them interesting. The boundaries kind of get blurred at the end as the last segment of the anthology bleeds into the finale of the central narrative, but for the most part the short films are completely separate from each other.
As is common for low budget movies, Dead List doesn’t have the best sound quality. Especially the waiting room scenes where the actors chat while waiting for their chance to audition for The Movie. Echo… echo… echo.
The movie also has some glaring examples of what I like to call “WTF writing”. For instance, let’s say you’re driving down the road at night with your best friend and you’ve got another friend who’s asleep in the back and taking up the whole back seat. You come across a crazy woman who obviously needs some help. Do you let your sleeping friend rest, ask your best friend to get in the trunk of the car, and then drive the crazy lady to your house and let her inside while you release your buddy from the trunk and have a conversation? WTF? Yah, me either.
And, while Dead List doesn’t have the best acting either, what really irritated me was their #YouNeverGetToSeeIt special effects style. I was actually all set to give them a single star until I saw the Kush segment. Not that it was Oscar quality. They spent too much time dwelling on the fate of poor Kush, but who could blame them? This must’ve been where they blew their whole special effects budget. You do get to see it and it’s some goopy, slimy practical effects goodness. Was it worth wading through the rest of the movie just to see that part? Well, no, but it did make me cut them a little slack.
In summation, I’d like to offer the filmmakers some advice just in case they’re thinking of making a sequel, Dead List II: Electric Boogaloo. First, make another pass through the script to tighten it up and make it sound more natural. Second, find a sound engineer who can mic a tile room without it sounding like an echo chamber. And third, if you’ve got a limited budget for special effects… don’t spend it all in one place.