May 1, 2018
Writer & Director: Holden Andrews, Ivan Asen, Victor Mathieu
Starring: Deane Sullivan, Jan-David Soutar, Josh Eichenbaum
Reviewed by Sean Leonard
Dead List is an anthology-style horror movie that falls somewhere in the range of The Twilight Zone meets Creepshow, with maybe a sprinkle of Southbound thrown in for good measure. Okay, that might be setting expectations a bit high, but the fact is this is a movie with intertwining stories full of social commentary, tension, gore, and a bunch of laughs to balance it all out. And even though there are a few problems that arise along the way, this is still a pretty decent horror anthology.
Very similar in premise to the popular Japanese manga/anime/film series Death Note, Dead List also features a book in which a name can be written and then that person will be killed, but moves it out of Death Note’s high school setting and into the competitive world of Hollywood auditions. We see a name written into the book, and then watch as their fate unfolds. Of course, it’s never as simple as someone just dying when their name gets written in there, and that’s where the stories get fun.
There’s Zander, who is driving along, bragging about all his girlfriends, when he hears on the radio that cops are in pursuit of a car that sounds a lot like his. When he looks in his rearview mirror, it’s not just the fact that police are chasing him that surprises him.
Then there’s Scott, who suddenly realizes he can’t speak or hear. When he goes out the front door to go and get help, it leads right back in through the backdoor. A walk down the hall brings him upstairs. And the ringing in his ears is getting louder and louder.
Jason and a couple friends are heading home from a night out when suddenly an old woman steps out in front of their car. They end up driving her home, and then things get dangerous when she curses them.
And in possibly the funniest/goriest segment, a kind of amalgamation of “The Raft” and “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” from Creepshow 1 & 2, Kush goes surfing despite the warnings at the beach that it’s not safe. When he gets back to shore, he notices he cut his leg pretty badly. By the time he gets home, his leg is covered in pus and gooey. Soon, he is literally falling apart.
Dead List was written and directed by the team of Holden Andrews (a newcomer with just a couple credits to his name so far), Ivan Asen (who got his start in visual effects on films like Ender’s Game and Maleficent), and Victor Mathieu (who was a production assistant on An Inconvenient Truth and Mamma Mia! before moving on to writing and directing for TV and movies). And it’s in the writing that this movie finds its strengths, and somehow also where it stumbles, if that makes any sense? Most of the individual segments are really well done, creepy and smart, drawing the audience into a story about a character they really haven’t met before.
The first segment, with Zander getting pulled over, might have some folks scratching their heads, trying to decide whether it’s presenting social commentary or kind of offensive (I’ve gone back and forth on the issue; fairly certain no harm was meant, but it’s a tricky one). And the last segment, where Bob gets chased by a killer clown, is a bit tedious due to the subject matter (I can only assume we’ll need to get through zombie killer clowns before the trend finally diminishes), but at least it manages to tie things up.
Well, actually, no it doesn’t. Cal (Deane Sullivan) and Trevor (Jan-David Soutar), roommates, aspiring actors, and our protagonists (seen mostly in the wraparound sections of the film until the last segment), discover the book and try to use it about ¾ of the way through the story. Which means, the description of the film that reads “a struggling actor conjures a dark force in order to win a movie role” is not actually describing the plot of this movie at all. And if it is, I don’t know who wrote the first few names in there. Speaking of confusion, the movie opens with a scene of a woman being chased by the book…who is she, and why did it chase her? What does this have to do with the story?
Despite the weak points sprinkled along the 80-minute running time, Dead List is an entertaining, creative movie. They approach the anthology from some interesting angles in creating some highly original segments, and they manage to make the whole thing look a lot bigger than its lower budget might have limited it to. I’d go so far as to argue that if the wraparound story was dropped in favor of another actor being offed in a fun and creative way, and the out-of-place intro scene was dropped, this could be one of the better horror anthology films of the last few years. As it stands, it is still a very enjoyable film and one that comes recommended for the fan of short horror tales.