Indie Film Review – Make-Out with Violence
How does one describe the indie film Make-Out with Violence (2008)? Is it a zombie/horror film? It kind of is, but not really. Sure, there are moments here that are tense and gruesome and suspenseful, the kind of stuff that you would expect from a movie like this. But it’s clear early on that the Deagol Brothers, who directed and wrote the film with Cody DeVos and Eric Lehning, attempted to craft a story that has more to offer than just an undead person trying to eat some human flesh. In a way, I wouldn’t even classify this as a straight “horror” film. Instead, the zombie that’s featured works as a catalyst for the true intention that’s at play: the dynamics between this group of young people who each have a desire to love and be loved, and the walls that stand between them from achieving that. It’s an ambitious attempt to take a well-known genre and flip it in the fashion they did.
The first interesting aspect at work in the film is the choice of its main character. Beetle (Brett Miller), is the young boy at the heart of this story, and through his detached narration, he guides us through the opening scenes and sets the foundation between everyone that’s involved. We learn of Wendy (Shellie Marie Shartzer), a beautiful young woman, who disappeared without a trace and is presumed to be dead. No insight is given as to why she disappeared or who may possibly be responsible; what’s important is how her death affects the rest of the characters. The first act of the film is its strongest part. The filmmakers allowed ample opportunity to give the supporting characters the chance to express how they relate to one another. Beetle’s narration is to the point and without judgment as he describes how his brother Patrick (Eric Lehning) was secretly in love with Wendy but was never able to tell her. His twin brother Carol (Cody DeVos) is an introverted and shy person, but harbors an attraction to Addy (Leah High), who was Wendy’s close friend. In the meantime, Addy has her own crush, Brian (Josh Duensing), who was actually Wendy’s boyfriend while she was alive. And finally Anne Haran (Tia Shearer), who was Wendy’s friend from boarding school, has a crush of her own on Carol.
You may be asking yourself why I went through a lengthy explanation about the various attractions and love triangles between these young people. The film is not so much a horror movie as it is a teen drama, just with a zombie thrown in for good measure. Yes, we come to learn that Wendy, through a sheer miracle, has been brought back as one of the undead. But the film doesn’t delve into chase scenes, or Wendy banging and lurching about with her next victim helplessly trying to escape. Instead, we find the brothers Patrick, Carol, and Beetle trying to help her—they bring her to the empty home of one of their friends to take care of her, clean her, wash her clothes and make her look presentable. Because the film isn’t interested in the same kind of plot points that other routine zombie films have, it allows us to concentrate on the aspects of the characters and how they deal with the most interesting return of their friend. In particular, Patrick, who obviously still loves her, now has the opportunity to look after her and help her in a way he was never able to while she was alive. This is the second interesting aspect about the film, because we see that Patrick, increasingly consumed with his ability to do whatever he wants with Wendy, become more and more creepy and controlling with his obsession, even to the point of causing concern from Carol and Beetle.
In the meantime, the film focuses heavily on the various attempts of Carol to win the heart of Addy. Carol once had a chance with her when he took her out to a school dance, but his own shyness prevented him from sealing the deal and now he walks around regretting it. He does everything he can to gain her attention: calling her late at night, always showing up willing to help her with whatever she needs, and even going so far as to ride his bike right in front of her moving van. Patrick and Beetle even help him out by giving him a list that describes in detail the various steps he has to accomplish to get Addy to like him. From little things like using poor Anne Haran to make Addy jealous, to slightly bigger things like risking his own life, the list is literally foolproof, a document written by Cupid himself, or so it may seem.
It’s a darn shame that Beetle’s narration disappears in the second half of the film. If done correctly, voice-over narration can support and even enhance what the viewer sees on screen, giving more depth and dimension to what is shown. The structure of the first half of the film is tight, dynamic, and interesting, because Beetle’s narration helps establish and maintain that style. We’re glued to the screen because of the inventiveness of how the film introduces and describes all of its characters. When the brothers discover Wendy, Beetle’s narration goes away, and with it the structure that kept the film’s headstrong pace. The film feels as if it comes apart at the seams and begins to meander along through its story. This is disappointing. You would think that the introduction of a zombie would help and even uplift the film’s grasp on our attention, but instead, it presses on the brakes and makes the film move forward at a lingering crawl. I found that the real key element of the movie was the words spoken by Beetle, and when it loses that, it loses its spark.
While I feel that Make-Out with Violence had some good ideas and was greatly motivated with how it wanted to reinvent the rules of the genre, I also feel that it didn’t quite hit the mark. I don’t think it’s a bad film at all; I do think it is well directed and written, but in the end, it was simply ok. If it was only able to maintain what it had established in the first act, it could have really catapulted to something special. I do have to give credit to Shellie Marie Shartzer, who arguably plays one of the best zombies I’ve seen in a movie. She has the great ability to twist and turn herself in a way that literally looks like she is a dead body trying to get itself to move around. If there’s anybody out there that’s looking to hire someone play a convincing undead person, she’s your zombie!
Final Grade: B-