“After she died again we had to take her home. She came alive in the trunk”
Brothers Patrick and Carol Darling (Eric Lehning and Cody DeVos) thought the days after high school would just be a magical time, seeing friends, having parties and chasing summer love. Carol loves Addy (Leah High) and Patrick loves Wendy Hearst (Shellie Marie Shartzer). The problem? Neither girl knows the boys intentions. But, what started out as a happy time to remember, would turn out to be a summer they would never forget. Struck by the tragic disappearance of Wendy, her friends struggle to deal with uncertainty of life and death—until one afternoon when Carol discovers Wendy’s body tied to a tree in a field—twitching. Not alive and yet not quite dead, the brothers lock Wendy’s reanimated corpse in the bathroom of their friends house while they desperately try to come to grips with the situation.
Atmospheric and lyrical, like pages from some forgotten photo album snapped to life, Make-Out with Violence is a melancholy gem eerily reminiscent of Sophia Copola’s The Virgin Suicides and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks as seen through the eyes of Wes Anderson. A “so sincere it must be real” emotional journey told through the auspice of a zombie love story, this feature-length directorial debut by The Deagol Brothers and Co-written by star Cody DeVos is a visually stunning and emotionally draining look at unrequited love.
Take a moment to consider the sheer audacity it takes to envision, pen and film a dramatic coming of age love story whose central character Carol passes his day away trying to convince the girl of his dreams to see him as more than just a friend, while his brother lovingly caresses, bathes, dresses and feeds the corpse of the girl who he never got. Now, sit back in amazement as the filmmakers not only pull off that trick, but in their own bizarre way, make you feel compassion not only for the two brothers (one of whom is clearly less well adjusted than the other) but also for the steady stream of peripheral characters who have been touched by Wendy’s passing. On top of all that, you can’t help but look sadly upon Wendy’s decomposing body writhing listlessly in the porcelain bathtub and not wish the two would just kill her and end the suffering.
The film’s soundtrack is an amazing non-stop succession of some 40+ songs—most of which are written and performed by the band Non-Commissioned Officers which includes brothers Eric Lehning and Jordan Lehning (who plays Rody in the film). The soundtrack serves to amplify the nostalgic mood of the feature. In so many ways—as I mentioned before with regards to The Virgin Suicides—Make-Out with Violence feels like a love letter—a reflective remembrance of an event that has long since passed. The synth-heavy pop songs that accompany the films soft visual flair seem to further punctuate that point. It’s as if we are watching some sad and twisted story in a secret 1980’s John Hughes universe where no one is going to get the teenage queen.
The Zombie/Drama must be a Spartan category; I can’t for one think of another film I’ve seen that took quite such a large leap of faith to enjoy. In so many ways The Deagol Brothers’ film is a horror movie, but the horror on display here is universal to teenage existence. It’s not the terror of Dawn of the Dead or the bloody anarchy of 28 Days Later. In truth, it doesn’t need a living dead girl at the center of the story to sell tickets. But, it puts her there as the perfect catalyst to illustrate the divergent paths each brother takes over the course of one summer. The summer after Senior Year. The last summer of absolute youthful freedom before adulthood begins—innocence is lost and times change. That’s what Make-Out with Violence is about, it’s the American Graffiti of Zombie love stories.