On a weekend getaway at a rundown cabin in the woods, Jason, a cautious teen, his crude best friend Colin and his fearless older sister Summer are forced to work together, grow up and save their hard partying parents from their predatory neighbour intent on feeding them all to her undead family
Years ago, in a review of the classic Canadian horror film “Cathy’s Curse”, I jokingly said, “Canadians can make some awful, awful films.” Let’s be honest; Canadians have an image of being very polite, almost to the point of being reflexively apologetic. Even Ryan Reynolds admits there is truth to the stereotype, and he plays Deadpool, so you know you can trust him. I just keep imagining “The Quebec Chainsaw Massacre” where Leatherface cuts up the teens, but he is constantly crying, “I’m really sorry. I hope it isn’t an inconvenience. So sorry about everything, really.” Doesn’t lend itself to horror, though it would be a very uncomfortable film to watch.
Instead, we get “Dead Shack”, the story of a stereotypical Canadian lad (meek, apologetic) as he slowly becomes an unlikeable, self-focused jackass. If it ended with him shoving a McDouble McQuarter McPounder with a double McOrder of McFries down his throat, I’d say he transformed into the stereotypical American. Yeah, that could be a fun horror movie, but that is not “Dead Shack”.
Poor Jason. We watch him walk into the rain as we listen to his parents verbally shred each other. He goes to a street corner where he is picked up by his friend’s family. There is his buddy Colin, Colin’s older sister Summer, their dad Roger, and Roger’s latest attempt at romance, Lisa. Before they can speed away for their cheap cabin-in-the-woods weekend, we get to hear the family members do the usual “let’s show we’re cool by ragging on each other with lame insults” routine. Get comfortable because this IS “Dead Shack.”
In between endless scenes that make you pray every smartass in the movie dies a slow death, we meet an attractive older woman. We know she is potential bad news because the opening scene shows her track down a guy attempting to escape her house before gut-shooting him and allowing her zombie on a chain to eat him. We have our villain. Enjoy her when she is on screen because she gets very little worthwhile time there.
We follow our trio of utterly bored teens (no Internet, no phone reception) as they go out into the woods which gives us more time to listen to them insult and badger each other to no effect because we already know they are jerks, except for Jason who is too much of a wimp to be mean. In fact, when they stumble upon the zombie-owning lady’s house, only Jason takes note of the “No Trespassing” sign.
The other two, being modern-day, entitled lumps of offal, chastise him for following the rules of society, thus they are witness to our mysterious lady feeding a drunk Lothario to her zombie family. Yet, just as they nearly sneak away undetected, the two brats feel their outrage and offense at what they’ve seen must be expressed (did I say they feel “entitled”?), so Colin shatters a vehicle window. The zombie-owning lady comes out, and the rest of the film consists of these three jerks avoiding the consequences of their actions and getting others killed because they just could not follow rules or keep their mouths shut.
“Dead Shack” might have been a fun movie. Hell, it might actually be fun for someone under the age of 30 who thinks their every thought should be tweeted, Instagrammed, Facebooked, and so on to validate their existence. However, anyone who still feels respecting the privacy of others is the best option and that every conversation should NOT be a case of one-upmanship gone insane will be bored with the film long before what little pacing it has is undermined by grinding everything to a halt for more unfunny, insult-based dialogue. You know that most of the characters are twits, so the constant re-affirming of this fact wears thin before the family even reaches the cabin.
The only saving grace in the film is the one thing we should have gotten far more of, and that is Lauren Holly. She has a family of zombies that she cares for. Are they her family, and how did they get that way? Why does she feel an emotional connection to mindless flesh-eaters? And what the hell is the deal with the unicorns? Not saying that every little question should have been answered, but at least a few could have been addressed. Lauren Holly also stands out in her role here because, when the camera settles on her face when she is not talking, you can tell the character’s brain is functioning as she carefully watches and anticipates the next action of the people she is dealing with. The rest of the cast, while trying way too hard to make their characters likeable, have nothing behind their eyes except their next line. As it is, Lauren Holly’s character is just there to justify the antics of the rest of the cast. I would hope for a prequel featuring her character, but given how annoying this film was, it might be a good idea to just walk away.
Since I’m doing the movie review equivalent of “You damned kids get offa my lawn!!”, let me take just a moment to point out a trend (other than jackass characters we are supposed to find endearing) that “Dead Shack” overuses like a lot of recent indie horror films. Please, oh please stop with the camera drones! One or two aerial shots per movie is pretty much all you need unless a character or a villain is airborne. Just because you have a neat toy does not mean you have to use it again and again because you limited yourself to shooting inside a vehicle to keep your budget low. Don’t punish the viewers for your shortcomings.
“Dead Shack” might have been an okay little film if it had not set its sights on being abrasive and frustrating without any payoff for your trouble.