Directed by Benjamin Wilkins
Nothing is more pleasing than when someone can take a tired formula and make it their own, especially when it comes to the zombie subgenre. Some recent examples of exploring fresh ground with flesheaters include Contagion and Die-ner (Get It?), which took different views on pending zombie apocalypses. Now, director Benjamin Wilkins gives us a whole other take with his independent feature Pretty Dead (Dangerously Low Productions).
The film begins with a girl confessing her desire to die to her video camera in an intriguing monologue. After she apologizes to her father and says her goodbyes, she puts a handgun in her mouth, the screen dips to black, and we hear a gunshot. Immediately, the film cuts to the next scene with the same girl, now in patient garments being analyzed by a physician/psychologist in a medical viewing room. After some probing by the doctor, the deformed girl, who we learn is named Regina, begins to tell her tale that led to her current plight.
California medical students Regina (the beautiful Carly Oates) and Ryan are a young couple in a new blossoming relationship, head over heels in love and carefree. One night during a get together with some pals, one of the friends brings over some cocaine that they got off a recently treated junkie patient. After getting a little wild, most of them decide to snort some and let loose. Having never tried cocaine before and against Ryan’s wishes, Regina justifies taking the drug so she can understand the mentality of the patients she will soon have in her care. They divulge in the festivities until Regina gets a nose bleed and proceeds to pass out in the hallway. Luckily, Regina is able to come to and life goes on as usual. Or does she?
Soon after, Ryan decides to propose which Regina happily accepts, right before she bites his chest hard enough to draw blood. They joke about her getting a little rough, until she starts to exhibit other really bizarre behavior such as eating raw bacon and stealing plasma as well as liquidized body fat from her clinical site to use as food. Now, normal food ha no nutritional effects on her and she becomes a hardcore insomniac. She hides all these intricacies until Ryan finds some empty plasma containers and she comes clean about her secrets. Most people would have freaked out, but the lighthearted Ryan takes it all in stride and accepts it because he loves her. In fact, he uses his video camera to document her latest phase as they both try to make sense of it.
Eventually, the bacon fat and plasma are not curing her cravings and she begins to blackout, causing her to do some harmful things whenever she fights her hunger. They finally deduct their hypothesis after remembering a Discovery Channel-like program about an ant portraying aggressive behavior from his others in its ant pack because it was infected by a rare fungal spore. When the ant finally fought against this spore long enough, the spore burst out of its head and infected all of the other ants it came in contact with. Fearing the same type of fungus has affected her as well, they both allow her to succumb to her hunger for fear of infecting those around her.
When Regina purchases a sidearm and instructs Ryan to kill her if she becomes too aggressive during one of her "blackouts", the situation becomes too much for him to handle. He leaves town and in doing so, leaves Regina alone to fend for herself against this mysterious infection. With her emotional rock gone, Regina becomes so desperate that she concocts a super anti-fungal to destroy the horror inside of her. At this point, she feels she has nothing to lose and downs the mixture, but instead the fungus fights back...big time. She calls for a pizza to be delivered to her home only to kill the delivery guy – talk about ordering in food! Ryan comes back just in time to see the aftermath and now realizes the situation is beyond dire.
Pretty Dead’s narrative is told using the found footage gimmick but does so without being annoying or distracting. All of the footage we see is either through Ryan’s video camera, friends’ home videos and security cameras. Thus, it totally eliminates the whole “well how did they shoot that if this is found footage?” issues that bother a great deal of viewers in films of this mold. You can tell the filmmakers took great steps to make sure that footage would not be considered bogus by using outlets such as Ryan videotaping his surprise engagement proposal to her and a recording of a little girl’s birthday party, for example. These are times in real life when most people would videotape events such as these so they can be kept as keepsakes over time. Another gratifying experience is that most of the usual shaky handheld in these kind of flicks is non-apparent, since the security cameras are mounted and that Ryan sets up and stabilizes his camera to record the days in her progress into pure cannibalism.
Another satisfactory note is that it is a fresh take on the zombie film without beating us all over the head that it is indeed a zombie picture. In 1987’s Near Dark, the word vampire is never used even it is obvious that the villains are indeed bloodsuckers who burn in sunlight. In Pretty Dead, it is obvious that Regina is a zombie, but that word is never uttered. She could almost be viewed as a deranged cannibal since she speaks and maintains her high intellect. It is intriguing when a film is able to project something like that without trying to be in uniform of similar pics that have preceded it.
Combining first-person found footage and zombie/cannibal flicks already creates a recipe for fun, but this little budget shoe stringer’s strength lies in Oates acting. She is essentially what keeps this film going and her performance gives a realistic feel to all that is happening throughout the running time. Oates’ effectively portrays Regina's transformation over time from a happy young woman to one digressing into a state of depression and utter grief. The feeling she emotes make you feel sympathy for her character and keeps the audience engaged in doing so.
Pretty Dead is pretty good…actually it is really pretty excellent! It might sound a bit like Fangoria’s debut I, Zombie, but it is extremely different and done a thousand times better. The folks at Dangerously Low Productions are currently in talks for a distribution deal and they definitely deserve one for themselves and for the many moviegoers who will benefit from seeing their film. For more information on the movie and to see when it might be available in your area, check out the links below.
And stay around after the credits are finished rolling.
|4 out of 5 Creeper Santas|