26th Aug2015

Frightfest 2015: ‘Night of the Living Deb’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Maria Thayer, Michael Cassidy, Ray Wise, Chris Marquette, Julie Brister, Syd Wilder, Brian Sacca, Grant Garry, Ned Donovan | Written by Kyle Rankin, Andy Selsor | Directed by Kyle Rankin

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There are some films that, upon viewing, you just can’t help but fall in love with (and Night of the Living Deb is not the only film at this years Frightfest to hit me in my horror-loving heart). Back in 2009, at my very first Frightfest as a reviewer – covering the festival for Bloody Disgusting – there was one such film… Infestation. A parody of nature run amok movies like The Swarm, Phase IV and Them!, Infestation was a near-perfect comedic take on the killer-insect genre (even though those original creature-features are funny enough as they are) with stellar performances from Chris Marquette and Ray Wise. Well that was 6 years ago. a long six years. Since then director Kyle Rankin has been pretty much off the feature-film radar, having only helmed the TV movie, Nuclear Family, in 2012. But that’s all changed, and Rankin is back – and more importantly back at Frightfest – with Night of the Living Deb, a near perfect comedic take on the zombie-movie with yet another fantastic cast, and he hasn’t forgotten his Infestation family, bringing back stars Chris Marquette and Ray Wise in supporting roles!

The film follows the titular Deb who, after a girls’ night out, wakes up in the apartment Ryan, of the most attractive guy in Portland, Maine. She’s thrilled, but can’t remember how she got there. Pretty boy Ryan only knows it was a mistake and ushers her out the door… into a full-scale zombie apocalypse. Now, a walk of shame becomes a fight for survival as the mismatched pair discovers that the only thing scarier than trusting someone with your life… is trusting them with your heart.

Zombie romantic comedies are nothing new. We’ve had the likes of Shaun of the Dead, Warm Bodies, Life After Beth and the more recent Burying the Ex. But no matter how much I like those films, none of them can compare to Night of the Living Deb. Truly. Why?

Maria Thayer… That’s why.

One of the co-stars of one of my all-time favourite comedies, Accepted, Thayer is an absolute delight as Deb. Her performance is full of enthusiasm, kookiness and just the right amount of innocence to offset the stupidity of Deb. For Deb is stupid. And desperate. Yet she is also so charming that you can do nothing but cheer her on as she tries to not only survive a zombie outbreak, but also get the guy! Deb is at once the “manic pixie dream girl” trope so many speak about, but also a rather ridiculous hero – so much more than just the female equivalent of Simon Pegg’s titular Shaun (of the Dead), to whom she will undoubtedly be compared. Deb’s comedic foil is Ryan, played by Michael Cassidy, the antithesis of her hyperactive nature – embodying the same skeptical position as Pegg’s on-screen girlfriend Liz and taking very much the same emotional journey as that character too, eventually succumbing to the charms of Deb along with the audience.

If the performances are on point, so is the script. Penned by first-time screenwriter Andy Selsor, Night of the Living Deb‘s script is peppered with some incredibly witty observations, a rather subversive undertone and (near the knuckle) jokes which poke self-referential fun at the film, its characters and the very genre in which this inhabits. Nowhere moreso than when Deb realises the zombies in her world are of the pre-28 Days Later variety: “At least they’re the old-school palsy-variety zombies” anyone?

A definite contender for my Top 10 of the festival, Night of the Living Deb is the most fun I’ve had with a zombie comedy since the first time I watched Shaun of the Dead. Here’s hoping Rankin’s film will be held in the same high regard. It deserves to be.

***** 5/5

Night of the Living Deb screens at Frightfest on Saturday August 29th at 11.15pm in Discovery Screen 1.

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