14th Aug2017

Fantasia 2017: ‘Dead Shack’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Cameron Andres, Lizzie Boys, Hannah Rochelle Burr, Lauren Holly, Gabriel LaBelle, Matthew Nelson-Mahood, Taylor St. Pierre, Donavon Stinson, Valerie Tian | Written by Phil Ivanusic, Davila LeBlanc, Peter Ricq | Directed by Peter Ricq

dead-shack-poster

Never underestimate a trio of curious teens…. Tough girl Summer, her smartmouth younger brother Colin and his pushover best friend Jason find themselves in a cottage in the woods when the siblings’ dad and his girlfriend take them on a low-budget getaway. As the adults get drinking, the kids go exploring and come across a ramshackle house in the woods where they witness their neighbour serving up a couple local yokels to her hungry, undead, brood. When she discovers the intruders, they become next on the menu.

The dichotomy of teen movies and balls to the wall horror always makes for an interesting mix, often giving us the best of both worlds AND in particular the best in horror, especially in recent years: Turbo Kid, Deathgasm, It Follows, etc. Hot on their heels comes Dead Shack, a film that takes the tropes of the kids adventure movie, a la The Goonies, and throws in zombies, sadistic killers and gore, gallons of gore!

Opening strong, with a strange armoured killer unleashing a zombie on a terrified escapee, you can’t say Dead Shack doesn’t make a striking first impression. It’s a shame then that, by the films end, that strength has fizzled out through an over-abundance of laughs at the expense of the terror…

That’s not to say Dead Shack isn’t a great horror comedy, it is, it’s just that it feels like you’re watching a overly-gory episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark or Goosebumps, aimed at later-aged teens rather than adults looking for the latest zombie hit. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, it’s just that I couldn’t help feel that, had director Peter Ricq upped the ante on actual scares, this could have been near-perfect genre film. Instead we get a serviceable zom-com that shines thanks to the grotesque black comedy and the performances of its main cast.

Speaking of cast; beyond the trio of teen heroes, Dead Shack is marked by two fantastic performances: Lauren Holly as the armour-wearing matriarch of the zombie family, who uses her feminie charms to lure moronic men to their death at the hands of her flesh-eating folks (a superb subversion of the “final girl” trope); and Donavon Stinson as the drunk father who stumbles his way through the chaos, seemingly oblivious as to what is going on even in the face of all the [bloody] evidence!

Like a lot of teen-led horror, it’s the kids that are not only the heroes but also drive the film forward. The relationship between the three protagonists Jason, Summer and Colin, is central to the success of Dead Shack – the banter, the comraderie, the “love”, between the trio is the heart of the film and the source of the films more light-hearted moments. The three are also not afraid to get suited up for a fight too. Something they do in style, tooling up with weapons and homemade armour a la Evil Dead 2 and, more recently, Turbo Kid.

In fact Dead Shack shares a lot in common with fellow Canadian genre film Turbo Kid; both films mix genres successfully, feature kids in central roles and are packed with graphic gore… But that’s where the similarities end. Where Turbo Kid filled me with enthusiam and stayed in my mind long after the credits rolled, Dead Shack has already started to fade from memory as the film finished…

*** 3/5
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Dead Shack screened as part of this years Fantasia International Film Festival.

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