A lovely weekend getaway in a small, cozy cottage with your best friend, his hot sister, and their parents sounds like a pretty cool vacation, no? Except that the mother is really the miserable step-mother; the father is a really embarrassing (yet hilarious) drunk, and the next-door neighbor has preserved her family members as zombies and systematically feeds them fresh flesh. Kinda messes up your weekend, a little. Thus is the premise for “Dead Shack,” directed by Peter Ricq and co-written by himself, Phil Ivanusic, and Davila Leblanc, which made its North American premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival.
Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood) joins his best friend Colin (Gabriel LaBelle; CW’s “iZombie,” ABC’s “Motive”), as well as Colin’s family, including his sister Summer (Lizzie Boys; “Evidence of Truth,” “Angels in the Snow”), their father Roger (Donavon Stinson; “Dead Rising: Endgame,” Lifetime’s “Unreal) and their stepmother Lisa (Valerie Tian; “Juno,” “21 Jump Street”), for a weekend at a tiny, rented cottage out in the middle of the woods. Jason’s got sort of a crush on Summer, but that’s irrelevant, because he’s there to hang out with Colin, right? As soon as they arrive at their destination, the three teenagers decide to venture into the woods to explore their surroundings. Amidst their adolescent conversations, among other things, of flirting and failing at doing so, they stumble across a house, littered with seemingly abandoned cars. When the owner of said household suddenly returns home in her car, followed by two not-so-sober young men, the trio of youth creep up to the windows to get a glimpse of what’s going on inside. What looks like the beginning of a one-night threesome ends up as a one-night feasting as the two young men are drugged and fed to what seem like living dead humanoids. Desperate for assistance, the teens rush back to the patriarch, who has gotten drunk in the meantime, and that’s when the danger and chuckles commence.
“Dead Shack” is a ‘first’ of many things, for many individuals involved with this film. Aside from a documentary, this is Peter Ricq’s first directing of a motion picture. This is Matthew Nelson-Mahood’s first time ever on the silver screen, or any screen, for that matter, while Gabriel LaBelle has only been in television series. Lizzie Boys has performed in made-for-TV movies, this being the exception. Despite all of these factors coming into play, nobody does a horrible job. Ricq does a decent job at directing, getting our attention right from the get-go as the viewer is directly introduced to a poor soul who is being devoured by one of the zombie family members. I also really enjoyed the emphasis placed on the overly-sarcastic father, Roger, who really was the most hilarious character of the movie. He remains just as funny once he’s drunk, yet in a different way. I also enjoyed the way that we don’t clearly see the zombies at the beginning of the story, as well as mid-film, when they devour the two obnoxious young men. Some directors sometimes make the mistake of showing the “monsters” too early in a movie, removing any and all mystery or suspense from their revelation.
The actors perform acceptably, nobody showing signs of nervousness or looking like a rookie; even Nelson-Mahood, who really is a rookie at acting onscreen. They are all entertaining in their own way; the boys, and father, with the humor, and Summer with her smarts, while the stepmother was believable in her hungover mood.
There are, however, a few downfalls to “Dead Shack”. The neighbor (Lauren Holly; Mary Swanson from “Dumb and Dumber,” “What Women Want”), who plays an important role in the film, didn’t really give off anything to either be amazed, scared, or even interested in that character. Perhaps because most of her acting career has revolved around comedies or rom-coms, I don’t know, but there just wasn’t that much to be fascinated by her character. Maybe it’s not even her fault if her character was to be sort of dull in the script. Regardless, something was done improperly in regards to her character.
In addition to this, we never truly get an explanation as to why or how there are zombies in this film. Now, don’t get me wrong: some of the best zombie movies EVER don’t give a specific enlightenment on the cause of a living dead outbreak, such as George Romero’s (R.I.P., dear sir) “Day of the Dead”, or my favorite film of all time, “Dawn of the Dead”. Nevertheless, “Dead Shack” is no “Dawn of the Dead.” We don’t have enough excitement, gore, violence or anything from these horror classics to make us forget this significant detail in the scenario.
Although we are mildly entertained, “Dead Shack,” as mentioned above, is a first for many individuals who worked on this film, and still leaves room for improvement. That being said, it is still a movie that should be viewed at least once to be introduced to Peter Ricq’s feature film directing debut and the potential that he possesses in the world of horror cinema. “Dead Shack” receives 3.5 stars out of 5, in my book.