Tony West pulls off the near-impossible with his new film Deadtectives: he’s crafted a tonally perfect horror comedy, one that balances scares, laughs and heart-tugs with equal success. There’s not a single beat that doesn’t work in this hilarious, spooky film, and that’s a rarity, indeed.
You’re The Worst‘s Chris Geere plays Sam, the host of a lackluster ghost-hunting reality TV series on its last legs in both ratings and ideas. Sam’s joined by his competent producer/wife Kate (Tina Ivlev), cocky co-host Javier (José María de Tavira) and Sam’s unsophisticated brother Lloyd (David Newman), the only member of this team that actually believes ghosts are real.
By the time we meet the Deadtectives, everything’s falling apart: Kate’s tired of duping innocent victims who believe their cupcake stands are haunted by vengeful grandmas or whatever, and the network’s ready to cancel them after seasons of bad ratings. The network exec gives them one last chance, surrendering them to an unhinged and ball-busting new producer (Martha Higareda) and sending them all to a much scarier location than they’re accustomed to facing. After some mildly racist travel gags, they arrive at an ancient home in Mexico that’s been beset by the unholy trinity of supernatural motivations: Mayan curses, Revolutionary War mayhem and the murder/suicide of a family. As you might suspect, Sam and his team are immediately in over their heads when actual ghosts appear.
This movie is funny. Our audience was full-on guffawing at most of the jokes, which are delivered at an almost breakneck speed. But it’s also legitimately creepy at times, with some very effective jump-scares, ghostly gore and extremely cool and clearly defined supernatural rules, some of which we’ve rarely seen before, like a window/portal trick that is used sparingly and well throughout the film.
Deadtectives works on a visual level, too: it’s bright and stylish, with cool makeup effects and excellent production design. It moves at a swift and captivating pace, never giving the audience a chance to be bored or wonder how much time has passed since the opening credits. There are no lulls in Deadtectives; there’s no fat to be trimmed. Everything matters and engages here, and perhaps most impressively, the few emotional moments actually land, too. There’s some moving character nuance given to Sam that won’t make viewers want to roll their eyes: it’s deftly woven into the rest of the story and both preceded and followed by immediate laughs and scares. That’s just how I want my feelings stuff in a horror comedy!
In spirit and tone, Deadtectives could almost be called Beetlejuice-y at times, and of course that’s not a title that should be summoned lightly. But much like Tim Burton’s arguably best film, Deadtectives offers a groovy, free-wheeling energy that dips back and forth between scary and funny with shocking ease. Watch just about any other horror comedy out there and ask yourself how easy that is to accomplish. It’s much, much harder than Tony West makes it seem here.