Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Review: Dead Kansas

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Dead Kansas
Directed by Aaron K. Carter
Rotten Productions
64 minutes, 2013

I guess it’s kind of obvious that there are going to be references to the Wizard of Oz, even if you’re dealing with a post-apocalyptic zombie flick. To give you just three quick examples from the first 15 minutes and then I’ll leave it alone, promise:

1.    It begins in B&W
2.    One of the main character’s name is Emma, or for short, Em (i.e., “Auntie Em!”)
3.    A tornado.

There, I got that out of my system, so let’s move on, shall we?

Emma I (Alexandria Lightford)
and her dad Glenn (Aaron Guerrero)
We are introduced into a dystopic Kansas that is a mixture of The Walking Dead and The Road Warrior (1981). The zombie catastrophe has come and a significant time has passed, enough for everything to “normalize.” Known simply as “Rottens” for obvious reasons, everyone is pretty calm about them, and are more concerned about how to survive food shortages, supplies, and apparently a lack of suitable – er – mates, i.e., someone to continue the human race. It’s a very Republican way of thinking in my mind: We barely have enough food for ourselves, so to hell with birth control, let’s procreate!

An interesting concept presented by Carter is that the viewer doesn’t get to see the Rottens, but rather we get to occasionally see through their eyes, in black and white.

As the film weans on, so does the desperation of the characters. One could see this as a kind of Christian parable, being the protagonists are solid believers in the big JC, while the bad guys follow the path of the unrighteous. Now I know this is was filmed before the rise of groups such as those in Africa or the Middle East, but there is a similarity between the gang mentalities of outlaw macho men seeing women as slaves to sell. This is obviously a coincidence on the film’s side, but on the other hand, it can also be seen as somewhat prescient to what has occurred since its release, sad to say.

Antagonist, guitarist and
Noddy Holder|look-alike Michael Camp
Another “Biblical” indicator, knowingly or unconsciously by the writers, is that it is the women who first become infected as Rottens that starts the apocalypse, then turning on the men, is sort of the traditional Eve and Adam allegory.

The film is actually a five-part Web series that has been collected into a single set, which flows pretty evenly, coming across as chapters (indicated by title cards). Because it was filmed over time, part by part, that means some actors will be in some chapters, but not others. Hell, even the main character, Emma, does a Darrin (or Becky, if you will), in the first half played by Alexandria Lightford and Erin Miracle in the second. Actually, it felt a bit seamless, though in retrospect, definitely different in the cheekbones. Still, it works, and that’s what matters.

The two Emmas: Erin Miracle and
Alexandria Lightford
The ponytailed, wild-eye villain is played by musician Michael Camp, whose last name in this case is accurate. Let me be clear, much of the acting in this film is either over the top or wooden, but I really insist that it should not get in the way of either watching it or affect the quality of the viewing. In fact, it’s part of the fun in this case.

For example, the only other female in the cast (other than part of the background) is Juliette Danielle, who plays Emma’s mom in a flashback. She is known, especially in the Canadian Prairies, as the lead in what is commonly referred to as the worst film made in the 21 Century, The Room (2003), which has an enormous cult following (e.g., yearly screening get sold out in Saskatchewan). Juliette comes across fine here; in fact, she is one of the better actors of the troupe. My point is, it’s not just the acting, or the writing, or the cinematography, it’s the whole enchilada, and in this case, it’s worth the view.

I think it’s a smart idea to (mostly) not show the Rottens. It’s sort of like in General Semantics when they don’t use the “to be” verb. The crew needs to find different ways around the story that enhance it by demanding difference, which makes the film more of a psychological battle rather than just aim-and-shoot gore. Lots of gun (and pitchfork) usage, as well as other action, but taken from a bit of a different perspective. It also saves on the make-up budget, as well, I assume. The addition of some comic moments also moves things along.

Movies are a mindset. The biggest mistake mainstream viewers make is to approach a micro-budget indie with the same standards as a multi-million dollar blockbuster. That’s like going to see Clerks (1994) and expecting it to be like Ocean’s Eleven (2001), to pick another genre; it’s just not realistic, and gets in the way.

Dead Kansas may be just over an hour, but it goes quickly and mostly enjoyably.

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