The Canadian horror/comedy Dead Shack has a family, consisting of teen siblings Colin and Summer (Gabrielle LaBelle and Lizzie Boys), their father Roger (Donavan Stinson), his hungover girlfriend Lisa (Valerie Tian) and Colin’s friend Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood) renting a cabin in the woods, only to discover a house of zombies next door, headed up by the non-zombie family matriarch, played by Lauren Holly (you read that correctly).
Dead Shack makes a valiant effort to nestle into the same horror sub-genre in which films like Evil Dead 2, Dead Alive and Shaun of the Dead comfortably rest, but it unfortunately falls just a bit short. It doesn’t do so by lack of trying, mind you, and it does have its moments of success. To start, the character interaction and witty banter is spot on. The first few scenes in which the principles are together are very enjoyable to watch. There is some very clever and funny dialogue exchanged, and I found myself almost not wanting the horror aspect of the film to kick in, as I was enjoying the interplay between the actors enough to sustain me. Donavan Stinson in particular givesa very funny performance, so much so that I intend on seeking out more of his work (including his award winning role in the Jason Priestley comedy series Call Me Fritz).
There is also some really nice camera work, particularly some overhead drone shots at the beginning of the film. The music is pretty fantastic as well, which was composed by the electric pop group Humans, a Canadian duo that includes director Peter Ricq. It’s clearly an attempt to capitalize on the retro 80’s horror vibe that Stranger Things helped usher in, but it works well here. Despite the lower budget, the production did nice work in the gore and special effects department. Unfortunately, it wasn’t used as originally as Evil Dead or Dead Alive, so it’s fairly formulaic for the genre.
There are more than a few nods to Sam Raimi and Evil Dead, including an “homage” to the famed tool shed scene from Evil Dead 2 (I use homage in quotes because I’m giving the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, as opposed to accusing them of straight up ripping it off), as well as a line of dialogue taken directly from Army of Darkness (I can’t be as forgiving there. They stole it). But unlike Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods, Dead Shack does not elevate or add to the genre, simply regurgitates it.
The biggest issue I had with the film was the clunkiness of the plot. I found myself constantly questioning the characters motives outside of plot convenience. On numerous occasions I thought to myself “But why would they do that?” I feel the fault lies in the fact that the three writers (Phil Ivanusic, Davila LeBlanc and director Peter Ricq) all come from animation writing backgrounds, where logic can forgivably take a back seat at times. Almost the entirety of the second and third acts consisted of scenes in which the characters could have taken different courses of actions for the better, though that would not have progressed the plot to the writers’ liking. The tone is also a bit inconsistent, and I feel the writers had trouble balancing the two genres. The film is front loaded with humor and back loaded with gore, with only a small percentage of the script in which the two overlap.
I really wanted to like this film, and while there is a lot that does work, it ultimately falls a bit flat. The likable cast and clever writing can not overcome the inconsistent and clunky plot.
The extras are disappointing to say the least. With the exception to the Trailer, there is only a twenty-minute long Behind the Scenes featurette, which may be one of the most boring featurette of its kind that I’ve ever seen.
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (22.99 Mbps)
Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
English SDH, Spanish
Single disc (1 BD-25)