Friday, February 21, 2020

Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival 2020.08: Dead Dicks

Got home too late for the first film of the night after a week of weird hours and feeling like my stomach was going to rip in half, but I was looking forward to this one after it being a difficult skip at Fantasia last year (I appear to have chosen Miss & Mrs. Cops in the only slot when both played instead).

So say hello to director Lee Paula Springer and stars Jillian Harris and Heston Horwin, the ladies having come down from Montreal (I suspect Boston feels like a nice respite from the February chill if one starts from there), while Heston is from California. I am something like two-thirds sure that I've seen Ms. Springer around at Fantasia a few times, and not just when her film played last year, which created that slight "out-of-context" tingle in the back of my brain for a while.

The genesis of this movie sounded kind of crazy - she and her husband/directing partner Chris Bavota had another project set up with Horwin, but everything started to fall apart as their phone kept buzzing on the way home from another festival with another blow each time, so they came up with this crazy idea as something that could get made with relatively few resources to not get discouraged by this turn of events. It wound up finished days before it was set to premiere a Fantasia.

I kind of wish I'd gotten to see it there, because apparently some sort of snafu led to this festival receiving a DCP with unfinished effects. Not a huge deal - they aren't crucial - but it's strange they got mixed up like that months later

Dead Dicks

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2020 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, DCP)

I find myself inclined to cut Dead Dicks an extra little bit of slack because here's something just tantalizing and absurd enough about the concept that one wants to see it done even if there's probably no way to make it something one can actually believe in. So while the filmmakers often have some trouble stretching their movie far enough to cover absolutely everything that they want to include, the narrative membrane doesn't quite get so thin as to tear, and that it lives right on the line between "very much independent" and "underground" works to its advantage.

The filmmakers put a content warning about suicide on the front, and the film earns it right away, showing a young man (Heston Horwin) committing suicide. It then moves to his sister Becca (Jillian Harris), who has just been accepted to nursing school with a focus on treating mental illness, the faculty feeling her personal experience will be of benefit. So she goes to work as a bartender, only to receive messages from her brother all night, eventually alarming her enough to go check on him. She does not, as the opening might suggest, find him dead, but just more inconsiderate than usual, walking around naked, cranking the stereo loud enough for downstairs neighbor Matt (Matt Keyes) to threaten calling the police. No, he's called her because there's something on one of his walls that births a new Richie when he dies - and he has killed himself several times that day.

Since death is not permanent within those walls, Dead Dicks is not entirely about suicide itself but mental health in general, magnified. Filmmakers Chris Bavota & Lee Paula Springer place these siblings in a small space and then run Richie through cycles of of highs and lows, thinking he's found a shortcut around dealing with his problems or has been given a fresh start without any actual work on the underlying issues. It leaves the sister who has often taken on the responsibility of dealing with the fallout a bigger, bloodier mess to wrangle - indeed, by the end, it's clear that she is as in need of a chance to hit reset as her brother, as she is just as trapped, with it quite likely that there is no satisfying exit to be found from this situation.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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