THE DEAD ONES *** USA 2019 Dir: Jeremy Kasten. 73 mins
Maybe it is the film’s subject matter that bothered me but exploiting the event of a high school shooting in order to make a horror film, seemed like a cheap shot to me. The basic premise is The Breakfast Club meets Gus van Zandt’s Elephant (2003). Four high school outcasts are assigned the task of cleaning their high school after a horrific incident. The teens are Alice “Mouse” Monroe (Sarah Rose Harper)-shy and introverted, former juvie resident Scottie French (Brandon Thane Wilson), Katie Foster (Emily Davis) as the girl that has gone off her meds, and Katie’s boyfriend Louis Friend (Torey Garza). Faculty member Ms. Persephone (Clare Kramer) has assigned them the job and is in her office waiting for the job to be completed. As these four students make their way to the high school in a van, we aren’t really clued into what had occurred earlier. The film is like a jig saw puzzle that has been tossed on the floor; we have no idea who anyone is or their relationship to the others. The high school setting is perfect with plenty of flickering lights, disarray everywhere, and lots of shadowy corridors. Even though the four students go to school here, there is an unsettling feeling of unease to the setting. Things do not feel right from the get-go and they aren’t going to improve from here.
Outside we see four menacing figures clad in black and wearing elaborate masks over their faces. No one speaks as the leader makes hand signals for the others, directing them to their appointed tasks. We see two of the invaders threading chains through the windows, the other two chain the front entrance closed. Intercut into these scenes are flashbacks to what seems to be a school invasion by the four masked intruders. The four intruders appear on a video monitor announcing that they are the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse ( Famine, Pestilence, War and Death) and that they are here to put an end to the bullying and violence at the school. As our group of teens separate and begin haphazardly cleaning, they are in different rooms. Katie, who is prone to self-mutilation and hallucinating, thinks that she has seen some murky figures placing chains on the windows and doors. As a viewer, we cannot distinguish between the character’s perception or what is shown. We see various apparitions in the bathroom stalls: are they real or imagined? There appears to be a supernatural influence in the building, so we have the four-armed intruders combining with the undead. This is certainly an interesting mash up. Ghosts and armed gunmen both are unleashed to torment the four students now trapped in the school.
All four characters have fully completed personalities, each with his or her own past, and the dialogue rings true. Yes, this is not a John Hughes screenplay; these four teens are all damaged and they have experienced some serious trauma. Mouse tells Katie a heart-breaking story of how she came to be labelled with that nickname. Her father was the school janitor as well and apparently, he was slain in the school shooting. Katie takes off her sweater and many ornate patterns are shown carved into her arms and back. At times Katie mysteriously begins bleeding, even though she insists that she did not harm herself. The two boy’s amp themselves up with testosterone, preparing for battle. We have seen the intruders and they seem to be authentic but at this point of the film, nothing is certain. At the beginning of the film we were shown a video of some boys bullying another one; his face is covered, and he is physically inserted in the toilet headfirst. It turns out that this person was Scottie, and he reveals this in conversation to Louis. While the film progresses, we are shown quick cuts from the school invasion and before long we cannot distinguish what is a flashback, what is actually occurring, or what is a supernatural appearance. This is a heady mix and probably would have resulted in a mess in the hands of lesser talented individuals. The atmosphere in the school is dripping dread; the four gunmen are making their way through the school, various dead people appear and vanish, the students are scared witless and they have no idea what they are facing. Eventually the four are separated and they begin to hallucinate: Scottie is locked in a classroom with some bullies, apparently dead, and eventually seems to lose his arms and limbs. Katie has a mental breakdown and is killed by an apparition. That leaves the two other students: Mouse and Louis.
So here comes the inevitable spoiler alert: Do Not Read Any Further If You Plan to See this Film! As the film progresses, we get more and more cuts to the events that occurred earlier at the school. Two of the shooters turn on each other and one is killed. Another one is killed by a student with a pistol that he grabbed during a scuffle. That leaves two intruders: one seems to be female and she is dead set on saving Ms. Persephone’s young daughter. The leader of the group is determined that everyone left should be killed. During a faceoff, they unmask. The intruders are in reality Mouse and Louis. In a sudden about face, the viewer realizes that the four teens that started the film are in reality the school shooters. This takes on a Beckett like absurdity. The firemen rescue the child, and the shooters all are dead including Mouse. We cut to the interior of the van where the three students are seated. We overhear Scottie ask, “Why isn’t Mouse here?” Apparently the three remaining teens are in some sort of loop of doom repeating hell. Roll the credits!
The video is fairly creative, and the use of the school environment is excellent. The camera work is fairly impressive, plenty of objective shots and none of the close-up overuse so prevalent today. Audio options are offered in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are offered in English as well. The soundtrack is okay but doesn’t really strike any chords with me overall.
Overall Rating: 3 stars, this is a fairly invocative piece of film making. Screenplay writer Zach Chassler does a fine job of keeping us guessing until the big reveal at the end. The cinematography by Chris Blauvelt is top notch and there is plenty of gore for those that need to see the crimson flow.
Review by Robert Segedy