“It’s a strong directorial and debut for Benjamin Wilkins…”
The first-person perspective of filmmaking is here to stay. Personally, I have no issue with the format as long as it adheres to the rules it establishes. Just like in good writing, don’t start with a first-person and then switch to third. In film, don’t establish our guide as a “personal account,” then give us an omniscient perspective. More succinctly: don’t invite us into the room then give us shots from outside the house. There are exceptions to this rule, but unless your last name is Scorsese, it’s best not to even try.
When a filmmaker uses this conceit, it can be quite effective (the ground-breaking Blair Witch Project still towers, and for all its faults, Cloverfield is still a fun ride, and the Paranormal Activity series has built an empire on it.)
The latest entry is Pretty Dead, which not only adheres to it, but sculpts an engaging story around it as well. When medical students Regina (played by the beguiling Carly Oates) and Ryan (played by Ryan Shogren) decide to document their courtship, we are given access to their intimate times with friends, their foibles and their dance of courtship. During a party, Regina decides she will take a toot of coke, purely for medicinal reasons, of course.
She immediately has a bad reaction, in which she passes out and suffers a nosebleed. When she comes to, the couple go about as normal, and we watch their relationship grow to where Ryan decides he’s going to propose to Regina. In her unbridled enthusiasm, she bites his chest enough to draw blood. The couple initially write it off to sloppy foreplay, until Regina witnesses her cravings becoming more and more … peculiar. From raw bacon to plasma to, (shudder) her clinic’s patients’ body fat.
Blinded by love, Ryan continues to keep it all hush-hush as Regina tries to clinically understand her newly acquired tastes. But soon, even these bizarre delicacies can’t cut it, and she discovers even darker menu options.
What could have descended into yet another take on the “zombie” genre instead takes the clinical mindset of its protagonists as they look for answers. Is it a reaction from a fungal spore that they had recently watched on an animal documentary? Is it schizophrenia from which Regina’s mother apparently suffered? In fact, I almost dislike slapping a “zombie” label on the film, as it’s far from the bottom-feeder flotsam found on Netflix and Redbox. It also helps that we have Oates in the lead, contributing a strong performance as a young woman desperate to understand just what the hell is wrong with her. It’s her sympathetic performance that really helps anchor the flick in some sort of reality.
It’s a strong directorial and debut for Benjamin Wilkins (who also serves as co-writer) and both he and Joe Cook have done their homework, as witnessed on the film’s detailed website that addresses the diagnoses it brings up in its narrative.
It may be light on budget, but it uses every last penny wisely and should earn future notice for all involved, as Pretty Dead is anything but. (Also, there’s a nifty little post-credits addendum that’s worth checking out.)
Review by Rob Rector, Film Critic