The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - HANK BOYD IS DEAD | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (VOD) - HANK BOYD IS DEAD

A funeral caterer is held captive by the psychotic family of the deceased.

Review by Sean Lawlor (@generalsnobbery)

Directed by: Sean Melia

Starring: Stefanie Frame, David Christopher Wells, Liv Rooth, Michael Hogan, Carole Monferdini

While I cannot say I loved Hank Boyd is Dead, I was consistently intrigued by it. I’d even recommend it to a certain group of friends who can appreciate movies shot in self-conscious B-style.

There are a few more scary parts than there are funny parts in Sean Melia’s horror/comedy Hank Boyd is Dead, the writer/director’s first feature, though there isn't a ton of either. That’s not to say the movie fails. Overall, it’s an entertainingly strange story that certainly earns its hour and 15 minutes runtime. It’s weird and unpredictable enough to maintain interest, and the “comedy” component of its marketing reminded me not to take it too seriously, because, well, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The narrative follows Sarah Walsh (Stefanie E. Frame), an aspiring actress who has come from LA to her hometown to help her ailing father. She’s picked up a job as a caterer, and her assignment is to cater the post-funeral gathering at the titular dead guy’s family’s house. Hank Boyd? Sarah wonders. The distant yet nice guy she went to high school with? The same, her boss responds. And not too long ago, he apparently murdered a girl out in the woods.

Sarah and her boss show up for their catering, and, in standard B-movie style, an all-too-arranged sequence of events leads to Sarah’s boss departing and Sarah’s soon being held captive in this seemingly normal house whose normality is upset only by the fact that the people who own it are freaking psychos.

Once Sarah is held captive, Melia works to balance an unveiling of conspiratorial backstory with present events. With the exception of a few scenes, such as when Sarah overhears Hank’s brother David (David Christopher Wells) speak openly with fellow cop Ray about their murderous history, these moments don’t feel too forced. Still, I can’t say the Boyd family’s backstory of deception was overly interesting. Likewise, I found the motivations of various characters difficult, if not impossible, to track.

Then I remembered not to take this film too seriously. Overthinking this stuff was missing the point.

The performances are surprisingly solid across the board and make for the film’s strongest appeal. Stefanie E. Frame is convincing as Sarah, a girl with no backstory for whom it takes way too long to click that she should get the hell out of that house ASAP. Michael Hogan is creepy enough as Ray, the policeman protecting the house who is more involved than he may initially seem. The strongest performances undoubtedly come from the trio of Boyds. Carole Monferdini’s Mrs. Boyd, the classic unstable mother trope, is consistently creepy and unpredictable with her wide-eyed gaze of unhinged confusion. Liv Rooth is even creepier as Aubrey Boyd, Hank’s only sister, whose entry (and ensuing look at a row of freaky-ass dolls) comes paired with a facial closeup that disturbed me to Lynchian levels. The strongest performance comes from David Christopher Wells as David, Hank’s brother, who, upon abrupt entry, is instantly unsettling. There’s a mesmerizing intensity to his gaze and presence, even as the story detoured into expanding levels of ridiculousness (basically, once people started dying).

The film is cut with random splicings of archive footage. While the technique is clearly making fun of movies cut with random splicings of archive footage, it’s also trying to use the random splicings to round out the story. Initially, the aesthetic technique enhances the film’s creepiness since, as Melia recognises, there’s something inherently unsettling about old, grainy footage of children. There’s also the suggestion in the first act that these sudden splices of distant memories are actually coming to Sarah’s mind. But this suggestion is soon forgotten, and by the midpoint, the old footage feels tacked on, adding nothing to the narrative and even distracting from it. It doesn’t quite work.

Also not quite working is a subplot told through interviews with two characters (one of whose identity was never made clear) that never really comes together. The interviews are meant to add further backstory to the Boyds, to add to their mystique, yet despite Arthur Aulisi’s solid performance as Uncle Frank, the interviews fail to provide a clearer portrait of the madness.

But hey, maybe that’s the point. Maybe it’s all about making fun of movies that have convoluted plots with ridiculous backstories, just like Hank Boyd is Dead.

In spite of a fledgling second act where several scenes could have been made creepier with some background music (especially since, earlier in the film, the music legitimately strikes an unsettling chord), the film climaxes at its most frightening point. There was so much going on with this twisted family’s insane attempts to control the unraveling situations that I’d forgotten the film’s events got set off by the sound of something hidden in an upstairs room. Melia offers a great payoff with the revelation of the sound’s source. It truly freaked me out.

While I cannot say I loved Hank Boyd is Dead, I was consistently intrigued by it. I’d even recommend it to a certain group of friends who can appreciate movies shot in self-conscious B-style. Melia embraces the B-film moniker, yet still he showcases impressive camera work and captures the aforementioned solid performances. If Sean Melia reads this, I’d recommend diversifying the sets for his next effort. I’d also point out that while it’s clear Sarah is the protagonist, I, the viewer, feel no closer to her than I do any of the other characters, even the crazy-ass Boyds. This is because we never see from her perspective (with the exception of the possible mental flashes that don’t adequately develop). While she is in the shots, the camera is so depersonalised that I feel no identification with her. My identifying are with her and seeing from her perspective would certainly have enhanced my investment, which is never a bad thing, even when part of the movie’s fun is its trying to be bad.

In the end, my snobbish grievances did not outweigh my intrigue. I am happy I watched Hank Boyd is Dead, and I will be most interested in what future projects Mr. Melia brings into being.

Hank Boyd Is Dead is on VOD now.