A Canadian zombie horror comedy? Yes please!
Let’s bitch it out…
Dead Shack is a deceptively simple film, and yet it is so simple that there’s no room for error when it comes to execution. Unlike many of the bigger budget films that I’ve screened at Fantasia, Dead Shack leans into its small scale production to produce a warm, lived-in horror comedy.
The logline is exceedingly relatable: a makeshift nuclear family comprised of divorced dad Roger (Donavon Stinson), new girlfriend Lisa (Valerie Tian) and siblings Summer (Lizzie Boys) and Colin (Gabriel LaBelle) head into the woods for “family time” at a winter cottage. Along for the ride is Colin’s friend Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood), a shy kid sporting an obvious crush on Summer that everyone knows about. Because finances are tight, Roger has selected a desolate cottage in the middle of nowhere, though unlike other films in the genre there’s still a neighbour within walking distance and a town a short distance away.
Unfortunately said neighbour (Lauren Holly) is where the conflict originates from. As witnessed in the cold open, the unnamed woman is luring men to her home and feeding them to the zombies she keeps under lock and leash. When the kids set out to explore and discover the neighbor feeding a pair of townies to a zombie, the stage is set for a battle of the “families.”
Like so many of the films that I’ve seen at Fantasia this year, a major component to Dead Shack‘s success is its strong script. Working from a script he co-wrote with Phil Ivanusic and Davila LeBlanc, director Peter Ricq has crafted an enjoyably relatable set of characters who spout all kinds of witty barbs at each other (just like real families do). The chemistry between the adults and the kids in particular is hilariously dead-on: Rover desperately seeks the approval of his teenage children by reducing everything to a joke and Summer and Colin have no issue telling Lisa, the latest in a string of girlfriends, exactly what they think of her.
As the outsider Jason is a bit of a bland straight man until the shit hits the fan. It’s when the zombie threat escalates in the final act that the kids are forced to take charge of the situation. Even then, however, the scope of the film is enjoyably small scale. The world isn’t in danger of being infected a la Walking Dead: the kids are simply trying to save a drunken Roger from being bitten and keep themselves from being murdered by a deranged neighbour. By keeping the action local and restricted to the two cottages and the woods, Dead Shack doesn’t extend its reach, and in doing so it keeps the focus on the threat to the family. At the end of the day, this is simply about Summer, Colin, Roger and surrogate son Jason trying to survive long enough to escape (there’s no talk of trying to eliminate the zombie threat to keep the rest of society safe – that’s not their priority).
The Bottom Line: Canadian zom com Dead Shack is refreshingly small scale, with great comedic timing and relatable characters. It’s a great, entertaining little film that should do well with horror, especially zombie, fans.