DEAD DICKS **** Canada 2019 Dir: Chris Bavota, Lee Paula Springer. 83 mins
A distinctive, surprisingly moving genre-defying oddity from writing-directing team Bavota and Springer. Jillian Harris is terrific as Becca, a young neuroscience student who gets a distress call from her mentally ill brother Richie (Heston Horwin) and discovers a dead “copy” of Richie in his closet…with other clones dotted around his apartment. He claims to have killed himself three times, each incident triggering the arrival of an uncannily accurate double. After failing to capture the phenomenon on camera, he asks that Becca bear witness as he repeats the suicide attempt.
The unfortunately named DEAD DICKS deserves to be remembered for the extraordinary, Cronenbergian image of a giant vaginal cavity in Richie’s bedroom wall (“Looks more like an asshole to me!”), from which the fake-Richies are birthed. The literate, thoughtful script nods to Dali (“He also wore a lobster for a hat!”) and finds much gallows humour in the inherent absurdity of its own evolving premise, with intelligent characters calmly approaching the process of dismembering alternate versions of Richie: “What are you doing with that arm?” The triumph is how it balances the gruesome black comedy with serious drama while playfully subverting its own apparent “rules”. At heart, it’s a powerful character-driven piece about a troubled young man – played without condescension by Horwin – who takes solace in the only person who doesn’t treat him like a freak and hopes in vain that a better, less fractured version of himself might be generated among the rapidly growing army of fakes. It’s an extremely well-acted, perceptive portrait of mental illness, but also a fascinating, original riff on familiar genre themes, with effective use of gore and an evocative score by Julien Verschooris.
Review by Steven West