After killing and cannibalizing several men and being found unfit for trial, Regina Stevens desperately tried to convince her psychiatric caregivers that she wasn’t mentally ill, but was in fact slowly becoming a real life zombie.
If Shaun of the Dead was the world’s first Zom-Rom-Com, then allow me to introduce you to Pretty Dead, the world’s first Zom-Rom-Dram.
Regina (Carly Oates) is madly in love with her boyfriend Ryan (Ryan Shogren). Like sitting on the beach, singing songs and playing guitars in love. Their sugary paradise of kissy faces approaches a dip on an otherwise upward trajectory when Regina has an adverse reaction to her first snort of cocaine at a karaoke party. Waking up in hospital, her love for Ryan is still strong but their relationship is taken to the next level when she develops some new quirks, such as eating raw bacon, no longer sleeping, and biting large chunks out of him when having sex.
Potentially, there is an adequate zombie film/body horror living inside Pretty Dead, but it’s suffocated by some questionable stylistic and narrative choices that constantly bring you out of the film. My main issue is the reliance on a found footage structure, where the film presents itself as a documentary about Regina’s condition and the terrible atrocities we are about to see her commit. Whilst this has been successful in films such as Lake Mungo and The Bay, Pretty Dead’s static eye dampens any potential scares before they happen, and overtly highlights how much seems to happen off screen.
Additionally, there’s a sense that the director and writer, Benjamin Wilkins, wanted to skip through exposition quickly so they could get to the money shot. Now, Pretty Dead is pretty short. Even so, this doesn’t justify the film skimming over plot issues and leaving discrepancies that just play predominantly at the front of the viewer’s mind. For example, when Regina begins to crave human flesh, she starts to steal biohazard material from the hospital where she works as a nurse.
Right here is the setup for a subplot that sees Regina trying to hide her newly founded cannibalistic hunger, right? Wrong. In a voiceover, Regina tells us that whilst Ryan was initially disgusted at her guzzling down body fat, he was eventually fine with it. Cut to the two laughing and joking as he tapes her making a fat and flesh smoothie, hold the ice cream. From this point on, the film lost me, as the couple continued to record their activities on the basis that they’re trying to work out a cure for her affliction.
The drama comes from Regina and Ryan trying to maintain a semblance of a normal relationship in spite of her predilections for the other white meat. And like all zombies worth their salt, there’s an allegory here you could pull out like a tick. Ryan says he will stand by his beautiful fiancée come hell or high water. Of course, as her outer beauty fades, he begins to stray and leave her alone for long periods. In time, her insides look like the outside and she comes to feel worthless and deserving of everything that’s happening to her. The weeping of her eyes being matched only by the weeping of her sores. It’s actually one of the film’s strong points along with Oates’ performance as Regina.
However, the behavior and logic of the characters mitigates some of the desire to be invested in them when the worst begins to happen. We are constantly told that outside of the couple, no one believes what’s happening in to Regina: her parents, the police, the men in white coats, etc. However, no one is ever pointed in the direction of the videos the couple have been compiling that provide some pretty solid evidence that all is not well on their love boat. You know, the video evidence that’s being used to make this film.
All genres of film must work to the logic created by their own internal worlds, and Pretty Dead fails to do it enough times to actually become bothersome. It’s an interesting idea, but it could have been so much more.