I try not to use “It’s ___ meets ___” in reviews, but this one came from the director, and was so perfect, I feel I should repeat it. Following the screening of Death And Cremation, director Justin Steele said “it’s Karate Kid meets “Dexter” “, and I couldn’t agree more – it really is a perfect way to describe not only the plot but also the tone of the film, which is a (darkly) comic tale of a master teaching the student, like Karate Kid, but also of a murderer (like Next Karate Kid. No wait, I mean “Dexter”) who you side with. And since the killer is played by the great Brad Dourif, it works almost flawlessly.
Dourif is one of those guys who unfortunately too often has small roles in great stuff (the LOTR movies, or the voice of Chucky) or big roles in bad stuff (Spontaneous Combustion). So I was thrilled to see him with a great role in a movie that was actually good. He’s got a way of delivering lines and reactionary glances that kills me, and he even makes some of the kill scenes kind of funny with his expressions and demeanor. The closing line alone (which would require too much effort to contextualize) is worth the price of admission, and I’m not sure if it would be nearly as effective if it came out of the mouth of Christopher Walken or Nic Cage or whoever else they go to for these sort of roles before him (it’s a shame he’s not a big enough draw to get this a big theatrical release, though a limited run could be doable).
And he kills jerks! But whereas Dexter goes after actual criminals, Stan’s targets include snobby teens and people who steal parking spots at the mall. Some might have trouble with the idea that this serial killer is essentially the movie’s hero, but I mean, seriously, how can you side with the asshole who stole a parking spot? He also has a fondness for crossword puzzles, and seems to have a bit of OCD (the opening scene, where he seems to be trying to prove that if he makes a phone call and gets put on hold, he can take the trash out, come back inside, and still be on hold). And he does so without “Dexter”‘s annoying voice-over.
His student is played by Jeremy Sumpter, who is a good actor but not quite the best fit for a goth-y introvert (maybe it’s just because he’s too good on “Friday Night Lights”, where his character was thrust into the world of football by his demanding father, and subsequently got a big head about it and turned into an asshole). But at least it wasn’t Thomas Dekker playing his umpteenth young rebel, and I gradually came around to him in the role. That’s the problem of knowing an actor from TV – you see them every week as one person, it’s a bit harder to accept them as someone else, whereas a movie actor, who you probably only see 1-2x a year tops (in new films I mean) doesn’t have that weekly familiarity attached.
The kills are also fairly gory, which I wasn’t expecting. They’re all pretty similar in execution (Dourif sneaks up behind someone, hits them with large object), but the amount of red stuff never stopped surprising. And why aren’t more people killed with bowling balls in movies? It’s the perfect murder weapon, if you think about it – it comes with holes for your fingers, unlike most giant heavy objects, and when you’re done you wipe off the blood and put it back in rotation at the alley, getting lots of other folks’ prints on it.
And through it all, there’s some surprising heart to the film. Sumpter’s mom is dealing with losing her husband, Sumpter is bullied at school, Dourif is clearly lonely… despite their questionable behavior, it’s quite sweet when the two of them start to bond, and how Dourif quickly gets revenge on the bully after Sumpter comes back with a bloody face (it’s worth noting that he takes a bigger risk with the bully than usual, killing him in his own home in broad daylight). So let me do my own comparison – it’s “My Bodyguard meets Relentless“. OK, theirs was better.
Hopefully the film will find distribution sooner rather than later. It’s now been a year since The Revenant, which I quite enjoyed and has yet to be picked up. Now, it could be a case of the director holding out for better offers, which is unfortunate because the market is terrible for these sort of movies right now. My advice – take the best offer you get right now – even if you lose money, you’ll have a great movie out there and be able to have an easier time getting financing for your next one (or even better, being hired outright).
Wait, I have crippling debt and am driving around a deathtrap because I can’t afford to get a new car or even fix the one I have – why would anyone listen to me on financial matters?!? Well, just take my word on the movie – it’s pretty damn good.
More over at BC’s Horrormovieaday