Dead Mary (DVD)

Where’s Crazy Larry?

Dominique Swain (Totally Awesome) stars in a tale of supernatural terror and late-20s ennui.

Kim (Swain) and her longtime boyfriend Matt (Jefferson Brown, Cake) join their former college buddies for a relaxing long weekend at a remote cabin. Where these weekends were previously filled with fun and laughter, this time around it’s marked with glumness, heightened by Kim and Matt’s relationship woes, and many discussions among the rest of them about who slept with whom behind whose back.

Before going to sleep, after much drinking, the friends try to lighten the mood with a game of “Dead Mary,” the usual slumber party antics involving trying to spot a ghost in the mirror. But it’s no game later in the night, when Matt is found brutally murdered in the woods, and there’s much confusion over who did it. There’s even more confusion when Matt rises from the dead with scandalous revelations about his friends. That’s just the beginning. As the weekend goes on, fear, suspicion, and jealousy run rampant, as do the living dead.

If I were to sum up this movie in one word, it’d be “melancholy.” During the first third of the movie, before any scary stuff happens, the characters mope around, examining each others’ relationship woes. Sleeping around behind a significant other’s back is main topic of conversation—not in whether it’s right or wrong, but what’s the right or wrong way to do it. There’s also a very clear sense of “things aren’t the way they used to be.” We’re told this bunch of pals used to laugh and have a good time when they were together, but now that attitude is gone, replaced by a forced seriousness. Now, this opening could almost be read as an examination of that you’ve-just-graduated-college-and-yet-your-life-still-has-no-direction-whatsover feeling, but it’s really more dry than it is emotional or thoughtful.

Then, the movie takes the big twist into supernatural horror. Although what happened up to this point was kind of languid, it wasn’t awful, but I was frustrated with everything that happened afterward. The characters didn’t act the way I think people might act in that situation. When your dead friend’s bloodied corpse suddenly springs back to life and tells you your girlfriend is cheating on you, is your reaction to freak out at your girlfriend, or is it to freak out because your dead friend’s bloodied corpse is talking to you?!?

As the plot progresses, the characters’ actions get even more unnatural. The movie riffs on themes similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing, as the friends now all suspect one another of being “infected” or worse. They go from longtime friends to extreme breakdowns almost instantly. The thing is, though, tension needs to build. The characters can’t just flip an internal switch to immediate supernatural-apocalypse paranoia. But that’s what they do here, and it gets to be too much for viewers to swallow all at once.

Despite these weaknesses in the story, the cast does its best to bring on the intensity. No one actor stands out more than the rest, though, as each has more or less the same role. The actors are required to look gorgeous first, act morose second, and be frightened and paranoid third. They do this just fine—it’s just unfortunate that the script doesn’t demand better of them. The scares and the gore moments are few and spread out, which leaves most of the film up to the characters and their interactions, with the filmmakers hoping this tension will carry viewers on to the finale. It really doesn’t.

Picture and audio here are good. There are quite a few scenes that take place in the rain, and it’s in these moments that the detail in the visuals and the sound really shine. The featurette includes some interesting interview snippets from the cast, but it also repeats far too many clips from the movie itself. Other extras include a music video and a collection of trailers for other releases.

The first few minutes of the film are an interesting experience. It’s just Kim, sitting alone in a car, bored. Director Robert Wilson (Warriors of Terra) makes the most of this setting, enhancing all the little details in the environment, and giving his actress just enough activity—however small—so that the scene perfectly captures the feeling of being bored. Based on this opening alone, I’d say Wilson has a lot more talent than what’s seen here, and I look forward to seeing better films from him in the future.

Dead Mary wants to be a lot of things at once. There’s a supernatural horror element to it, there’s a few relationship dramas to follow, and there’s dueling themes of paranoia and post-college adulthood. Unfortunately, these various aspects don’t come together for a compelling story like they should.

The Verdict

Dead guilty.

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