★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
It’s teens vs. a family of zombies in this Kickstarter-funded Shudder exclusive.
Directed by Peter Ricq.
Dead Shack is a heartwarming coming of age tale about a group of three teens coming to terms with the hand life has dealt them, stretching their wings as they gain independence, or… something. I don’t know. There are zombies and Lauren Holly suits up in some kick-ass zombie-proof armor. That’s enough for me.
The movie hit Kickstarter in November 2016 looking for a bit more cashola to improve effects and pretty things up. According to director Peter Ricq, even though the movie was already fully funded, he felt some extra money would let them add better digital effects and improve the movie’s quality. After a successful funding campaign — bringing in nearly $13,000 Canadian monies — the finishing touches were added and Dead Shack got its world premiere in Switzerland at the 17th annual Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival.
In preparation for this review I watched the movie as well as the proof-of-concept trailer they made a few years prior to the fund raising campaign. That early trailer was shown to investors to secure dollars for the movie and, to be honest, had a couple of things in it that should have been included in the final product. The first being young Master Finn Wolfhard [Netflix’s Stranger Things (2016-2019), It (2017)]. Wolfhard stars as one of the kids in the development trailer and does a great job, but all three of the actors were re-cast for the final version of the film.
The pre-movie trailer also has a great scene where the teens argue over who gets what weapon. Sadly, this scene didn’t make it into the finished product and was replaced by an Evil Dead-esque tool shed suiting up montage. That was okay, but the argument scene had a lot more character. It would be interesting to find out why the change was made.
Dead Shack, the production version, follows the weekend adventures of a low-budget family getting away from the city for a few days of fresh air and heavy drinking. Brother and sister, Colin [Gabriel LaBelle; The Predator (2018)] and Summer [Lizzie Boys; TV’s When Calls the Heart (2014)], are joined by Colin’s best friend Jason [Matthew Nelson-Mahood; TV’s V.C. Andrews’ Heaven (2018)] for the “cabin in the woods” experience. The Jason character was a bit too meek for my taste and the Colin character was a bit too ass-hat, but Lizzie Boys did a good job as Summer and the three together were at least believable, if not always likable.
The siblings’ dad, Roger [Donavon Stinson; TV’s Reaper (2007-2009), TV’s UnREAL (2015-2018)], on the other hand, easily stole every single scene he was in. With his Irresponsible Grown-Up routine combined with Dad Jokes and excellent comedic timing, he spent most of the movie overshadowing the teens who were trying their hardest to be the stars of the show. His girlfriend, Lisa [Valerie Tian; Jennifer’s Body (2009), TV’s The Magicians (2016)], was more or less just a prop for jokes which was too bad, but sometimes that’s how things shake out.
Joining Roger in the Scene Stealing Club was “The Neighbor” [Lauren Holly; The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015), TV’s Motive (2013-2016)]. Holly looked like she was having a blast making the movie and brought a fun, campy, seductive vibe to the zombie-keeping villain character.
The motive for running into The Neighbor in the first place seemed a bit contrived, but they had to get there somehow and it led to some good zombie action so we’ll cut it some slack. Dialog-wise, Dead Shack was reasonable. I found the teens pretty unlikable some of the time, but what do I know? Maybe that’s just how teens are. Pacing of the film was great, though. No laggy parts and the director wasn’t afraid to go under the 90 minute mark; Dead Shack runs at a lean 85 minutes and makes the most of it.
As a partially crowdfunded indie flick, Dead Shack does a lot with not very much. Effects are decent — the Kickstarter money was put to good use — and the action rolls right along. If you’ve got Shudder and are looking for some decent zombie fun, check it out. Let’s see if you’re as pleasantly surprised as I was.