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STUDIO: Factory 25
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
- Deleted Scenes
- ‘The Fugitive Brain: Behind the Scenes
- Soundtrack Performances
- Deleted Score
- Graphic Design Featurette
- Radio Spot
David Gordon Green meets Romero but with a hefty dose of character driven absurdism to keep them company.
Written by Cody DeVos, The Deagol Brothers and Eric Lehning. Directed by The Deagol Brothers. Acted by Eric Lehning, Cody DeVos, Leah High, Brett Miller, Shellie Marie Shartzer, Tia Shearer and Jordan Lehning.
In the summer after they graduated from high school, brothers Patrick and Carol Darling are devastated when their lovely friend Wendy Hearst disappears without a trace. When the Darling’s youngest brother Beetle finds Wendy tied to a tree in the woods she appears to be extremely dead, but that doesn’t stop her from moving around and causing the brothers to make some pretty bad life choices.
I was trying to think how I was going to classify this movie for reviewing purposes. I was thinking it could be a romantic drama, but there’s a zombie in it. Or it could be a romantic drama with zombies, but it’s also really funny. Maybe it’s a dramedy\romance\horror movie, but it’s also completely character driven and way more interested in themes than plot and resolution. It’s all of these things and it’s none of these things. It’s a hundred different things and it’s also whatever you want it to be. It will be different to everyone. It’s perfectly flawed, it’s aggressively weird and it’s one of the most beautiful films I have watched all year. It wants you to love it while simultaneously begging you to hate it. It’s a masochist but it’s also a sadist, wanting the whips but thinking you might like them more. I suppose if I had to pick one word to describe the film, I would call it lonely.
Make-Out With Violence is one of the saddest movies I have ever seen, yet none of the things it sets out to do try to manipulate you into feeling anything in this film at all. Everything that happens is presented so matter-of-factly with hardly any reactions from the characters to the situations they find themselves in. When Beetle shows Carol the animated body of his good friend Wendy, he doesn’t seem shocked or horrified or even relieved that the answer to the mystery of Wendy’s disappearance is solved. It’s just something that’s happening. She’s tied to a tree in the woods when they find her, but no one even stops to wonder who tied Wendy up or why. She just was. Patrick was deeply and hopelessly in love with Wendy, but when he finds out she’s still sort of alive, it barely seems to register. At first all of this non-reaction really frustrated me and made it hard for me to understand anyone’s motivations or why they were all being so incredibly insular. By the end I realized that the film had nothing to do with zombies or even unrequited love, it was about how every single character in the film is stuck in a moment, the moment they lost Wendy, and the harder they try and pull themselves back into the land of the living, the more they slip back into themselves and the devastatingly lonely existence they trod through. Wendy might technically be the only zombie in the film, but every character in the film is dead, alone and lost in one way or another.
Patrick and Carol spent most of their time in the backyard, jumping on a trampoline and bullshitting with Wendy and Wendy’s best friend, Addy (played by the excellent Leah High). Patrick deeply loves Wendy and Carol is amazed by Addy, but neither of them have any way of actually speaking to them about their feelings, so they stay contented as being the girls’ friends and nothing more. When Wendy disappears, Patrick fights to become the person who mourns her the most profoundly, yet when Wendy comes back into Patrick’s life, he seems to react like it’s the most natural thing in the world for her to look dead and still be moving around. He spends time with her, bathing her and dressing her, but it always seems more matronly than sexual. And when he starts shoving things in her fingernails, it’s more like he’s curious than being sadistic. Patrick isn’t any one thing because he’s nothing.
While Patrick is taking care of Wendy (who they’ve stashed in their absentee friend’s bathroom), Carol decides it’s time to pursue Addy romantically. Addy, however, is pursuing Brian, Wendy’s boyfriend who is still deeply mourning her disappearance. Addy initially starts hanging around with Brian because she was Wendy’s best friend and he was her boyfriend, so who better to commiserate with than someone who you feel was equal in importance to the one you’re missing. But Addy’s pursuit of Brian feels born out of a desperate need to feel closer to Wendy and Brian is still too in love with his lost beauty to actually present any serious interest in Addy. After an evening consoling Brian and running her fingers through his hair, she kisses him and he kisses her back, leading to a flash to Addy a little while later, sitting in her truck, crying like she’s lost Wendy all over again. She didn’t want to do that to Wendy, she was just only trying to comfort her man. Meanwhile, poor Carol seems to be going after Addy not because he really wants her, but because it seems like the normal, correct thing for someone moving on with their life to do. His attempts to get her seem to come more from a place of curiosity than genuine interest. He might have felt strongly once, but he’s much too insulated to feel anything deeply anymore.
Patrick and Carol’s little brother Beetle is the one who initially found Wendy tied to the tree. When he sees her he’s frightened and runs into his older brother’s arms like any 10 year old would. That moment is the only time we get to see Beetle be a child since, as he watches his brothers drift further and further apart from each other, he spends the rest of the movie either trying to save his family or becoming more and more desensitized by the absolute insanity he witnesses every time he sets foot in the bathroom and watches his brother slaving over the re-animated corpse of a girl he once knew. By the end, he’s dead eyed and a shell of the little boy he was at the start of summer and is actually much closer to his brothers that way.
Finally, Anne Haran (played by the wonderful Tia Shearer) seems like the easiest character to relate to. She’s not monotone and strange like Patrick and Carol or desperately clinging to Wendy like Addy is. She seems happy and bubbly and really, really likes Carol and sure thinks it would be swell to be his special lady friend. As the film progresses, however, the sweetness and almost naive innocence she displays comes across not as endearing but as levels in her completely arrested development into a woman. Anne is still a little girl, wanting to hang out with the big kids and whether she became that way through the loss of Wendy or whether she was always that way is another interesting thought to take away from a film that refuses to give any easy answers.
Patrick, Carol, Beetle, Addy and Anne have lost their heart, which Wendy represents through how important she made each of them feel and by the effortless beauty of her soul, breathtakingly portrayed in brief glimpses by Shellie Marie Shartzer. It’s impossible to oversell the work Shartzer does in not only creating a character that (with just a few short minutes of screentime as a living girl) possesses so much grace as to believably rend these people for life, but also in how she creates the single most original zombie I think I’ve ever seen. Undead Wendy moves like a snake mixed with a boneless modern dance major and is absolutely captivating for every moment she’s onscreen; breaking your heart while simultaneously begging people to back the fuck away from her. There is a scene where Patrick and Wendy try and eat some birthday cake which is my absolute favorite moment I’ve seen in a film all year. Again, the work that Shartzer and zombie movement choreographer Alexandra Smith do in this is absolutely breathtaking and worth the price of admission alone.
Make-Out With Violence is so uniformly it’s own thing that in some ways it’s almost immune to critique. Yes, the fact that it was shot over so many years sometimes makes the flow a bit disjointed and the kid that plays Beetle seems progressively more bored and annoyed as the film progresses, but these are nitpicks that didn’t bother me in the least. The flaws make the movie feel that much more surreal and timeless in a film that really was already overfull with metaphor and theme (and sporting what is hands down the best soundtrack of the year). The Darling’s have lost their Wendy and now it’s time to grow up. When the film reached it’s end and I realized that not one of my questions were answered and not one resolution I was looking for came to pass, I thought the movie might hate me and think I was a loser for even looking for those things in a story way more interested in character and conflict. But then it hit me: the movie would never hate me, as it was too busy just reaching out, trying to make a connection.
There’s an absolutely wonderful documentary about the secret origin of The Deagol Brothers and their road to filming this movie. If you fall in love with the film the way I did and then watch the documentary afterwards, you will find yourself smiling from ear to ear, content in the knowledge that good friends can get together and make something extraordinary.
It’s really got a ton of stuff packed in there with deleted scenes and deleted snippets of the score, as well as a featurette on the graphic design and radio spots made during the initial release. There’s also a commentary I will be listening to as soon as I write this word.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars