The Movie Waffler First Look Review - THE DEAD ONES | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - THE DEAD ONES

the dead ones review
Forced to clean up their high school, a group of teens find themselves trapped in a nightmarish scenario.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jeremy Kasten

Starring: Sarah Rose Harper, Brandon Thane Wilson,  Katie Foster, Torey Garza

the dead ones poster

This is going to be the sort of review I take no pleasure in writing, a negative take on a movie that's trying its damnedest to pull off something original. But regardless of intentions, if a movie doesn't work, it doesn't work. While director Jeremy Kasten and screenwriter Zach Chassler's The Dead Ones aims for heady thrills rather than generic teen horror fare, it falls short due to clunky direction and editing that too often leaves the viewer confused and second-guessing the movie rather than giving themselves over to it.

the dead ones review

In Breakfast Club fashion, The Dead Ones sees a group of rebellious teens forced to assemble at their high school for cleaning duties as part of summer detention. No explanation is given as to why this is being done in the middle of the night, which surely contravenes child labour laws, and the film's sloppy reasoning for gathering its protagonists together is an early indication that it may have bitten off more than it can chew. The school appears to have been absolutely trashed, and the teens accept the rather unlikely excuse of the janitor having recently been stabbed to death.

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The four teens fall into clichéd camps - reclusive girl Mouse (Sarah Rose Harper), jock Louis (Torey Garza), juvenile delinquent Scottie (Brandon Thane Wilson), and cheerleader with body image issues Emily (thirtysomething Katie Foster, who might be the most unconvincing teen since the Fonz).

the dead ones review

As the night progresses they find themselves locked inside the school by a quartet of armed, masked strangers, all dressed in classic school shooter trenchcoats. While attempting to evade the gunmen and escape the building, they're individually subjected to hallucinations that seem to prey on their personal guilt, and it soon transpires that these teens may be guilty of more than mere vandalism.

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I can't say too much more without spoiling things, but there's an element of converging timelines that comes into play that makes The Dead Ones play out like a teen horror riff on Tenet (though Karsten's movie was made well before Christopher Nolan's film). If you've seen the '80s cult British sci-fi show Sapphire & Steel, The Dead Ones' headtrip narrative may feel a little familiar, as the present merges with what may be the past or future. There are similarities also to '70s British TV movie The Stone Tape and John Carpenter's quasi-remake Prince of Darkness, with horrific events seemingly 'recorded' within the walls of the school and now haunting our protagonists.

the dead ones review

For all its trippiness and integration of temporal physics, The Dead Ones ultimately boils down to killing off its young cast one by one. The trouble with this is that aside from Mouse, who is played sympathetically by Harper (her monologue concerning a pet rodent is genuinely affecting), they're an unlikeable lot whom we couldn't care less about, particularly once we realise what they're guilty of. Its exploration-cum-exploitation of school shootings and the toxic environs of the American high school may well prove a turn off, particularly for Stateside viewers, as Kasten seems to revel a little too much in his film's ripped from the headlines tragedy.

The Dead Ones is on US DVD, blu-ray, VOD and Digital from September 19th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2020 film reviews