Director Jeremy Kasten’s The Dead Ones tackles current hot-button issues about high school violence, including school shootings and bullying, with a supernatural spin. The film will likely take many viewers out of their comfort zones, and this challenging outing is bound to remain in the minds of those who see it for a good while.
Four teenagers — introverted Alice “Mouse” Monroe (Sarah Rose Harper), former juvenile hall charge Scottie French (Brandon Thane Wilson of 2011’s Lovely Molly), psychologically troubled Katie Foster (Emily Davis of Lovely Molly and 2010’s Ghosts Don’t Exist), and Katie’s violence-prone boyfriend Louis Friend (Torey Garza) are tasked by school faculty member Ms. Persephone (Clare Kramer of Tales of Halloween , the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, and Kasten’s The Thirst ) to spend what would have been their summer vacation in detention, cleaning up a huge mess at their high school. As these characters are introduced and that initial set-up is begun, The Dead Ones kicks off with some rapid-pace editing (courtesy of Maxx Gillman) and images that set the tone for a first act that boasts a mystifying, unsettling vibe. As puzzle pieces are revealed, as the condition of the school becomes more disturbing, and as suspense builds, the editing settles down and shots linger for more time.
While the members of the foursome perform their tasks and wander around solo or in pairs, another quartet — dressed as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — chains up the exits and begins setting the stage for a terrifying attack. Alice, Scottie, Katie, and Louis soon find themselves pitted against not only the masked intruders, but supernatural forces, as well.
The four main characters have complex personalities, and each bears his or her own inner conflicts and personal demons. Their dialogue is well written, helping to elevate them above stereotypes so often seen in teen-centered horror cinema. The screenplay by Zach Chassler — who has written for Kasten-helmed projects four times previously, including The Wizard of Gore (2007) and The Thirst — is smart, and the dialogue rings true. The main cast members do a marvelous job of bringing their characters to realistic life.
A main concern for many prospective viewers of The Dead Ones may be how the film tackles the school shooting scenes, and rightly so. I feel that Kasten and Chassler do a solid job of balancing the horror and shock of such tragic accidents with a sensitivity and compassion for the victims of the Four Horsemen gang. This is by no means an attempt at sheer exploitation of actual tragedies, and the film is set up in a manner so that no one should be rooting for the perpetrators. The film is likely to create dialogue concerning this real-life horror, as I am sure it is meant to do.
Kasten imbues The Dead Ones with an eldritch atmosphere. The set designs of the often dimly lit school are eerie, and once certain reveals are made known, they become downright chilling. The visual effects are impressive, using a combination of both practical and CGI methods. The supernatural entities are spooky indeed. Chris Blauvelt’s crisp cinematography captures every nail biting wide shot, gory close-up, and everything in between marvelously.
The Dead Ones is destined to be a controversial slice of horror cinema, and it is certainly one that cannot be easily forgotten. Horror movie fans who like to mull over what they have seen will find plenty to think about with this demanding work.
The Dead Ones has its U.S. premiere at Another Hole in the Head Film Fest on Saturday, December 14. The festival runs December 1st –15th at New People Cinema in San Francisco.