Sometimes, charm is enough to get a movie across the finish line. It may not all work, the whole may be less than the sum of the parts, but if there’s enough charm to it all, we audiences will tend to overlook some of the more obvious issues and give ourselves over to a film. We like to be charmed.
Dead Shack, the Canadian horror comedy directed by Peter Ricq, is a charming movie. The pieces don’t always fit, the jokes sometimes miss their mark, the horror elements can be clumsy, but the film holds together on the basis of charm. This is a likable movie with a likable cast, and by 2017 the zombie comedy is as breezy and recognizable a genre as the standard rom-com. Because I demand little from these movies, it’s easier for them to surprise me. I don’t know that I would call Dead Shack “surprising,” but I would call it… what’s the word? Oh, right. Charming.
A lovable but irresponsible father, his younger girlfriend, son, daughter, and the son’s best friend, Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood) take a weekend trip to a small-town cabin, where they discover that their neighbor (Lauren Holly) is killing people to feed to her family, all of whom are undead zombies. That covers both the setup and the execution of Dead Shack, which borrows ideas from past zombie comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Fido in the way it has Holly attempting to domesticate the people she loves who now, unfortunately, have a taste for people. The screenplay, credited to director Ricq and co-writers Phil Ivanusic and Daila LeBlanc, seems mostly interested in just letting the premise play out and with few turns or twists for most of its running time. That’s not to say there aren’t some surprises, particularly in the third act, but before that point, much of Dead Shack feels like we have already been there, undead that.
But it is charming, especially in the relaxed way it approaches the humor. There are plenty of horror comedies that subscribe to the idea that they have to crank up the energy to the point of being manic or shrill, or that by pushing the jokes or the gore gags as hard as possible, they can compensate for a lack of content. Dead Shack is much more content to let the laughs come to it rather than aggressively chase them down, and it’s a look the film wears well. It helps that the funniest performers in the film—Donovan Stinson as Roger, the patriarch, and Gabriel LaBelle as Colin, the son—each find an off-kilter way of approaching character archetypes with which we are otherwise familiar. These are characters we’ve seen in plenty of movies before (screw-up dad, precocious little brother), but the way they deliver their lines is funny because it’s rarely what we expect.
The zombie stuff can be fun, too, but the sheer proliferation of the genre has dulled the impact; when we can see ghouls snacking on human flesh on everything from The Walking Dead to iZombie, it’s increasingly difficult to stand out. The horror aspects of Dead Shack are sometimes clumsily edited, but they get the job done. There are no real standout moments, though, and that can often be what separates a really good zombie movie from one that’s just decent. Dead Shack is decent. It’s an easy watch, the characters are fun, and the whole thing is inoffensive. It’s charming, too. Don’t forget charming.
Movie Score: 2.5/5
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