The Living and the Dead DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee Pattee
DVD released by TLA Releasing
I only want you to be proud of me! – James
Written and directed by Simon Rumley
2006, Region 1 (NTSC), 83 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on March 25th, 2008
Leo Bill as James Brocklebank
Kate Fahy as Nancy Brocklebank
Roger Lloyd-Pack as Donald Brocklebank
When it comes to movies, I'm a steak and potatoes guy. I like my movies straight forward and not too fancy where they involve "thinking." I want film to be an escape from work, not an opportunity to do work. I certainly don't criticize those that love the mysterious meaning behind, say, a Lynch film, but that is not my particular bag. Give me a pretty Bay over Lynch any day.
But sometimes a movie like The Living and the Dead comes across my plate that's so thought provoking that by the time you realize your mind is being fucked with, it's too late and you are already absorbed in the movie.
On the surface, Dead seems pretty straight forward. Donald Brocklebank (Roger Lloyd-Pack – The Young Poisoner's Handbook) has to leave his bedridden wife, Nancy (Kate Fahy – TV's "The House of Elliott"), to go away on some business — business that is necessary to save the house. James (Leo Bill – 28 Days Later), his mentally disabled adult son, desperately wants to take care of his mother while daddy is away, but he's just not capable. So Donald makes arrangements for a nurse to come by.
The problems arise when the nurse doesn't arrive the first day, and James locks her out on the second. By the time Nurse Mary gets help from the authorities to bust into the house (a "house" Bruce Wayne would be jealous of), it might be too late to save mommy from James' watch. Or not. Hell, Nancy may have never even been bedridden in the first place.
The Living and the Dead is told through the eyes of James (maybe, the ending has me questioning this), which is the only way for the story to be told to have the impact it has. When James freaks out — either due to the frustration of a lack of comprehension or neglecting to take his meds — the camera becomes a controlled frenzy, enabling you to relate what is going on in James' head.
Yet, while writer/director Simon Rumley doesn't just use the frenetic camera shake to convey the madness (and, let's face it, that's the obvious shot), he uses his characters and imagery to keep you on your toes. And, fortunately for both Rumley and the viewer, the acting is stellar. There are many times in this movie where it would be easy to laugh at James, be it at what he's doing, or what he's saying, but instead of humor, you feel either pity or dread. Some scenes, you absolutely fear him. Leo Bill nails the confused James, making the character a sad, scary and confused young man instead of a caricature of someone with a disability.
But Bill couldn't do this alone, as he has to play off his co-stars Roger Lloyd-Pack and Kate Fahy. Donald has an interesting relationship with his son, and Lloyd-Pack is extremely impressive as a man who loves his son dearly, but is truly at the end of his rope with him. And Fahy equally shines as a mother who has nothing but patience for her son, even when he's coming at her with a knife.
If there is one thing that stands out above all in Dead, it is the tension. There are times when I was tense for obvious reasons, such as when he's force feeding Nancy her medication because, you know, the more you take, the better you'll be. But there were also many times I found myself gripping my chair for not-so-obvious reasons, like when it was something as simple as James pushing his mother through the house in a wheelchair, or putting her in the tub because, due to his neglect, she had defecated on her bed and self. Or even when I was waiting for the film to change to yet another gear that would make me question everything I had seen prior.
As of this writing, it's been three days since I've seen the film, and I'm still turning it over in my head. There is a lot of mind fuckery that goes on in the film, but it's not so far out there that it can't be discussed or analyzed. It starts out on the straight track, but soon after pops leaves to save the farm it takes a sharp turn to Strangeville for a visit. And just when you are getting used to the idea of settling down in this odd little town, the film decides to pack it up before you get too comfortable and you're off onto another, stranger town. By the time you get off the ride, you have a slight idea on what the hell you just went through, but you are sure you missed something. So you pop the DVD in again for another jaunt into James' head. Because you have to.
This movie most certainly isn't for everyone. Admittedly, I would have thought it wasn't for me before I watched it, and I was completely wrong. For you steak and potatoe'ers, give it a rent first. But for you cats that dig Lynch and the like, this should suit your palate just fine. Either way, make sure you watch it with a friend, because The Living and the Dead is one you are going to want to talk about. Give it a spin.
Video and Audio:
The 1.78:1 anamorphic presentation looks great. Skin tones are completely natural while everything else has a dreary look about it. Blacks are beautifully deep, which is important because it makes the goings on in this huge house the much more surreal. It doesn't help that, with the exception of the mother's room, the house is seemingly void of decoration. Even the flowers on the kitchen table look like they have been dead for ages. And the picture captures all of this terrifically.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack rocks. The surrounds get a nice workout, especially doing James' "episodes" that complement his madness quite well, as voices are spinning around the room just as they are in his head.
Dolby Digital 2.0 is also offered.
- Making-of Featurette
- Deleted Scenes
- Original Trailer
- Stills Gallery
- Laughter — A short film by Simon Rumley
The making of featurette is pretty damn good. Clocking in at just over 26 minutes, it has interviews with the film's stars, director, director of photography and more. It keeps the "so and so was really great to work with" nonsense to a minimum, and is enjoyable and informative.
There is about 13 minutes of deleted scenes that play as one long track. While the scenes were interesting, most were best left on the cutting room floor as the Dead is tighter without them. They are still worth a visit though, as some are interesting.
The short film, Laughter, is one that is definitely not for everyone. It was an excruciating long 12-and-a-half minutes. It's artsy fartsy filmschool material that I'm quite sure many people will love. Just not me.
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