Let’s clear the air right now – Dead Shack is neither a B52’s hit song nor is it a documentary fictionalizing the death of a famous Los Angeles Lakers center. Or at least it isn’t in this iteration. Directed by Peter Ricq, Dead Shack is a horror/comedy about a family who crosses paths with a murderous neighbor who lures others to her home with intention of feeding them to her zombie family. Like I wrote: horror/comedy.
We meet our main characters as they set out on a family vacation. Roger (Donavon Stitson) is the father and adult of the group. Along for the ride is his new girlfriend Lisa (Valerie Tian) kids Summer (Lizzie Boys) and Colin (Gabriel LaBelle) and neighbor Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood). Roger is a drinker, a joker and father that tries too hard to bond with his teenage children. He wants to be the cool-adult and throws his sarcastic wit aloud both to amuse himself and others.
His children are very independent. Thanks to Roger’s buffoonery they have to be. When they find themselves wandering from the vacation cabin they come across a neighbor worthy of their spying eyes. But when they witness the neighbor drug two strangers and then feed them to some zombie-like characters kept liked rabid pets, the kids grow up fast. They rush back to their father who is both drunk and drugged. Their story of the neighbors cannibalism is met with skepticism and drunken wonder by Roger whose alcoholic courage and hazed attempt to be there for his kids gets him motivated to investigate the claims. It’s when they enter the neighbor’s house that the film sways from being a full on comedy and lands itself dab smack into the horror/thriller genre.
What ensures next is barrage of equal violence and humor that propels Dead Shack to the height of its crowd pleasing wonderfulness. The kids get all Mad-Maxed up in gear and weaponry created with found parts. Their goal it to save the day and leave with the same amount of family members that began the odyssey (well, maybe not Lisa). Axes and sharp objects swing and stick, blood both red and black are spilled, zombies are both killed and created. As an audience our job is to sit back and enjoy the ride and if you don’t look too deep into the shallowness of the story, the ride is a fun one. We enjoyed the first half better than last. Stitson’s lines land with precision and the dynamic of the group would be something we would have liked to see more.
There are some great lines in Dead Shack (“When the blood goes black there’s no going back”), so when the film shifts to more of a zombie tale, it falters a bit to the finish line.
Our criticism is hardly a reason not to recommend Dead Shack. The crowd assembled at the screening during the Toronto After Dark Film Festival laughed and cheered in all the right spots. So even through the few flaws, it was clearly a crowd pleaser. And not a B52’s song.