Reviewed by Michael Erb
Think about every piece of zombie media to come out in the last decade. Consider the moments, ideas, and characters that made those zombie stories memorable. Now, imagine what it’s like to see every one of those things haphazardly strung together into something resembling a story. That mess is Dead Season.
A zombie apocalypse survivor calling himself Elvis is making his way toward the ocean. He coordinates with fellow survivor Tweeter over a ham radio to meet up and journey together to an island off the coast of Florida. The idea is to go to a remote island where there can’t be many zombies, if any at all. They get a boat and find a tropical paradise that, of course, is far more disturbing once they get to land. The duo is saved by a group of survivors, led by a grizzled man named Kurt Conrad. The inhabitants come together to gather supplies, kill the undead, and generally try to survive. However, once food becomes scarce, they see that man is the real monster.
Directed, co-written, and co-produced by Adam Deyoe, Dead Season is in strong need of some original ideas. The whole movie is composed of parts of other zombie stories. Elvis’s plan is straight out of Day of the Dead. He and Tweeter use false names with new people like in Zombieland. There are zombies of the Romero slow moving variety, and later we see some Boyle-type sprinters. There is no real explanation as to how these two undead strains came to be or how one becomes a sprinter instead of a walker. Zombies simply become either of these when the story needs more action. The name Elvis gives to the zombies, “walkers”, comes from The Walking Dead. All of these things worked well in their own respective stories. But when they’re combined into a movie they form this greatest hits album of inferior cover songs.
The acting is pretty awful all around. The leads are unfortunately flat in their roles. Scott Peat as Elvis and Marissa Merrill as Tweeter look absolutely lifeless as they make their way through a ruined world. When Peat forces tears (which happens a number of times), it’s painful to watch. The two can’t seem to find the motivation in their characters to keep going, let alone the motivation to try and elevate the material.
There is only one bright spot in the cast. James C. Burns as Kurt Conrad, leader of the island community, shows a confidence in command that makes it easy to believe why everyone follows him. For a character that comes off as a cross between Colonel Kurtz and the Governor, Burns actually manages to make him somewhat sympathetic and a concerned family man.
The cinematography is mostly handheld, so there’s a lot of shaky cam shots. The aesthetic suits the movie and lends it a do-it-yourself charm. This only becomes a problem during the action scenes, which lose all their tension from the lack of a steady visual. The action isn’t choreographed that well, but it would still be nice to clearly see what’s happening. It’s a shame, because the gore effects and zombie makeup are quite good. The dead look grimy and diseased, and watching a zombie horde devour someone is pretty grisly.
I admire how much Dead Season tries to do on an indie budget, and I like that the filmmakers wanted this movie to say something about mankind, but the final product still feels derivative and unpolished. There are better low budget zombie movies out there, so try to go through all of them before you think about watching this one.
The film was shot entirely with Canon 5D and 7D cameras and it looks gorgeous. Indie filmmakers take note: this is how you can make a beautiful looking movie without a RED cam. Even on a DVD, the picture is so crisp and the colors are wonderful. No matter what you play it on, this should still be pretty.
The audio is decent enough, there’s good nothing to make it stand out. The music on the other hand is used a little too heavily. The score favors strong, melodramatic notes that play constantly during scenes. Even the parts that have a little more importance to the plot and the characters get drowned out by piano keys mixed way too high.
The two standout features are the deleted scenes and the movie commentary. A few of the deleted scenes show a far more ambitious movie than the final product. In particular, there’s the majority of an alternative dash for the boat scene with a lot more characters. They all die in horrible fashions, but it makes the early action piece have more dangerous stakes than how it appears in the film. Also, there’s a good portion of found footage from a couple vacationing on the island pre-zombies. That scene was actually quality work and offers an interesting direction the movie could have gone if it just followed the couple.
The commentary is fun and full of great insights into the filmmakers’ minds. Director Deyoe, the director of photography, the producer/editor, and lead Scott Peat have a grand time recounting the production and joking at each other’s expense. They also talk about their love of the horror genre, their nightmarish location troubles, how they filmed so inexpensively, and the merits of free beer for extras. The commentary makes the movie better and is far more enjoyable.
The disc comes with a making of video that doesn’t show much. It’s nearly ten minutes of the cast and crew hanging out between takes and not worth the time. There are also some outtakes and the trailer, both of which are pretty much what you expect.