REVIEW: Dead (2020)

dir. Hayden J. Weal.

Marbles (Thomas Sainsbury) is a stoner medium: with a concoction of weed and his dad’s cancer meds he can see ghosts, and though this normally allows him to bring comfort to the bereaved and score a few bucks on the side, things go awry when recently-killed cop Tagg (director Weal) tracks him down to help solve his own murder.

If there’s something you count on the Kiwis for, its horror-comedy: from Braindead (1992) to Black Sheep (2006) and What We Do In The Shadows (2014) to Housebound (2014), macabre laughter appears to be in their DNA. The spectral shadow of Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners (1996) falls particularly long here, the set up pairing the living and dead to defeat a malign mutual enemy. However Weal and Sainsbury put their own stamp on this familiar heritage, injecting proceedings with a charming comradery: as the writer/director team and lead performers, there’s the fingerprints of real friendship here in a way which recalls early Pegg and Frost.

Which is not to say that all is froth. Marbles has lost his dad, and Tagg arguably much more: he may be running around in his pants (his trousers apparently stolen before his corporeal self succumbed) but he’s swallowing a barely repressed grief for the life that’s been taken from him. So too when it emerges that his murderer may be a serial killer targeting other gay men, the grief is given wider context: this isn’t just a personal tragedy, but a social assault.

This smart balancing of tone ultimately pays off. There may not be the outrageous splatter of Jackson or the consistent gag rate of Clement and Waititi, but the combination of affection, melancholia, jokes and longing creates something new and, in its own way, delicate. Like life itself really, which is ironic for a film called Dead.

Tim Coleman

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