Dead Shack Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Goodbye Productions
Directed by Peter Ricq
Written by Phil Ivanusic and Davila LeBlanc
2017, 75 minutes, Not Yet Rated
FrightFest UK premiere 25th August 2017
Matthew Nelson-Mahood as Jason
Lizzie Boys as Summer
Gabriel LaBelle as Colin
Donovan Stinson as Roger
A bickering working class family and their shy, wimpy friend take off for the weekend to an isolated cabin in the woods. Such a plan is rarely a good idea, let alone when you factor in renting the house from a listing on Craigslist. Inevitably, the kids (plus comedy dad and his girlfriend) soon find themselves fighting for their lives when the shack is invaded by a heavily armed crazy who looks like she wandered in from a Fallout raiding faction. It’s a step up from the usual hillbillies, anyway.
Like Cabin in the Woods by way of Stranger Things, there’s a heavy '80s Amblin Entertainment vibe, supplemented by a snarky, quip-heavy script, young cast, and John Carpenter-esque score. Frankly, Dead Shack sounds like it should be utterly insufferable. Thankfully, that isn’t even nearly the case.
For one, the writing is genuinely funny, resisting the urge to overdo it with either self-aware humour or lazy nostalgia (hey, remember Ghostbusters?!). The (well-cast, not annoying) kids speak like real 14-year-olds, in dialogue which is liberally peppered with dicks, bitches and genital humour. As is par for the course with all good family-centred comedies, the dad gets all of the best lines, and, together with his hungover, disinterested girlfriend, provides some variation to the youths. Naturally, the constant joking won’t work for everyone, but it has a hit rate far higher than most comedy horror movies on this spectrum of the budget – and should go down particularly well with fans of Turbo Kid and The Final Girls.
But when it comes time to ramp up the tension and scares, the grounded humour serves to humanise the characters and make us root for their survival. Which is a good thing, because there’s very little tension and no scares. As with most horror comedies (the genuinely terrifying The Cottage aside), one undercuts the other, resulting in a film that’s about as scary as Tucker and Dale vs Evil. In a neat twist on most family horror movies, the story’s main conceit is the kids trying to keep their drunk dad (plus girlfriend) safe from harm. With less gore and a more family-friendly rating, peak Joe Dante could have done wonders with this one.
But director Peter Ricq doesn’t do badly himself. The pacing is off and the film runs out of steam during its second half, but the writing remains strong throughout, and that’s even where some of the best jokes land. That’s to the ultimate detriment of the story’s horror element, but fans of good action and even better comedy won’t be too put off at all. As the story heads for its showdown, the no-meta-humour, no-references rule is relaxed to let a couple of Evil Dead winks through the net, and the gore flows freely, making up for the lack of scares.
Dead Shack is smart, surprisingly touching and genuinely funny throughout. One is left frustrated by the lack of bite to its horror side, but it still packs a real punch when it needs to.