23rd Oct2020

Frightfest 2020: ‘Dead’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Thomas Sainsbury, Hayden J. Weal, Jess Sayer, Jennifer Ward-Leland, Tomai Ihaia | Written by Thomas Sainsbury | Directed by Hayden J. Weal

Imagine if Michael J. Fox’s character in The Frighteners could only see ghost and ghouls if he took hard drugs… and was an idiot. That’s Dead in a nutshell!

Marbles, a hapless stoner, can see dead people, thanks to a homemade drug. Officer Tagg, a recently deceased wannabe super-cop is on the trail of a serial killer. So when Marbles’ mum plans to sell the family farm, and the only way of buying it is taking the money offered by Tagg in exchange for his help, Marbles accepts. Will the unlikely duo of directionless medium and ghost cop get over their prejudices and navigate their way through ghouls, perverts, a mysterious hooded figure, and an unexpected shot at love.

As I’ve said in many a previous review, New Zealand has, over the years, become renown for producing some superb horror films. From the early work of Peter Jackson and his films Bad Taste and Braindead; to the more recent films like The Loved Ones, Housebound and a personal favourite of mine I Survived a Zombie Holocaust. And what do a lot the genre films from down under have in common? The fantastic way they blend horror and comedy. Be it laugh out loud humour or dark, black, comedy.

And Dead, written by Thomas Sainsbury, who also plays Marbles; and directed by Hayden J. Weal, who plays the deceased Officer Tagg; is a shining example of a perfect horror comedy. However Dead is also much more than that… It may start out as a weird undead buddy comedy, a la the brilliant 1998 horror comedy Dead Heat, but the film also has a very tender heart to it; using this tale of the undead to actually deliver an uplifting film that touches on friendship, finding love, coming to terms with your sexuality and, obviously, the pain of losing a loved one.

All that wrapped up in a film which has one of the funniest scripts I’ve heard in some time. There are some real howlers in the script, from Marbles mispronunciation of words to his sweet-natured approach to life, to the odd yet oddly funny discussion about what you call diarrhea (in a scene that solidifies Tomai Ihaia, playing Tagg’s GPS tagged housebound sister, as a fantastic comedic actress to watch) – Dead‘s script is what makes this film stand out from the pack. And the performances…

Especially writer and star Thomas Sainsbury – who throws himself into his role without so much as a care (seeing him trying to go undercover in the local gay club scene is wonderfully absurd). Sainsbury and his co-star – and the films director – Weal have an obvious chemistry together and that shines through in their performances, very much in the same way as a myriad of on-screen duos before them: think Laurel and Hardy meets Simon Pegg and Nick Frost! Together Sainsbury and Weal take us on a wonderful, surprisingly emotional journey – Marbles and Tagg don’t know each other in the beginning but come the end of the film they’re as close as brothers would be; brought together by a crime, the solving of which is essentially the crux of the film, with some wonderful red-herrings thrown in to give the film a real air of mystery.

Sweet-natured, laugh out loud funny, this horror comedy should please those that loved the likes of Shaun of the Dead and the aforementioned The Frighteners. For me though, Dead is one of the best genre films of the year.

***** 5/5

Dead screened on October 22nd, as part of this month’s Frightfest Digital Edition. The film will also be available on Digital Download from 27th October and can be pre-ordered here.


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