Four errant students are ordered to do a summer cleaning of their high school after a terrible tragedy that has left the hallways and classrooms in shambles. As they meander around the closed school doing more chatting than they are cleaning, a masked and armed group calling themselves The Four Horsemen chain the doors and windows, barring every means of escape, and snake through the school’s layout setting a plan in motion to deliver a macabre message to the campus grounds. Something just doesn’t feel right when the students try to track down the masqueraders who move around more like specters with an eerie clamor of theatrics that’s becoming more and more eternally harmful the longer they remain inside the school.
“The Attic Expeditions” and “All Souls Day: Dia de la Muertos” director, Jeremy Kasten, has a new ghoulish, outcast teen horror on the verge of release with the American made, calamity surrounding “The Dead Ones,” entailing a theme of choice on the wrong side of deviancy when influentially steered by the negative forces of the besieging cruel society. The script is penned by Zach Chassler on his fourth collaboration with director Kasten, following their efforts on the vampiric allegory for drug use “The Thirst,” “The Wizard of Gore” remake, and “The Theater Bizarre,” a horror anthology, in over a span of a decade’s time. “The Dead Ones” presents a two-timeline parable with an inciting, yet disturbing, core involving every parents’ worst nightmare and America’s most disgraceful statistic, a high school shooting. Sick-O-Scope Motion Pictures serves as the listed production company behind the film.
Detention attendees is comprised of four teenage outcasts who are also quasi-friends that seem to know each other well, but are personally rough around the edge, denoting more distinct tensions amongst their insoluble secrets. In an introduction with the teens, we’re glimpsed into flashes of a nightmare images inside one of the teens’ head as their driven together to the school by their principal, Ms. Persephone, played by “The Thirst’s” Clare Kramer who is just as stunning as her in-story goddess inspired moniker. Ms. Persephone’s passengers include the “The Dead One’s” core characters with a victim of relative abuse in Alice “Mouse” Morley (Sarah Rose Harper), a bullied nonconformist in Scottie French (Brandon Thane Wilson), an unhinged self-cutter in Emily Davis (Katie Foster), and an aggressive sociopath in Louis Friend (Torey Garza). Performances are heavily relied upon as the cast of four are called forth by the story’s dual timeline where various plot points from two individual paths are needed to be crucially achieved for the unfolding to be organically ambiguous for it to converge in a blend of reality and, possible, damnation. “The Dead Ones” round out the cast with Amelia Talbot, Michael James Levy, Shane Tunny, and “Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money’s” Muse Watson whose always a nice addition to any horror character set in an eviscerated and sleazy father figure role.
“The Dead Ones” is a film that’s always in a temporal flux, weaving back and forth between utter chaos of an active shooter situation in the normal light and the near totalitarian order saturated with an infernal hue inside a dislodged environment. As the band of misfits reflect on their battered existence, one mentions, multiple times, his stint in Juvey while another can envisage the patterns to cut into her flesh, a bread crumb trail of hints and past misgivings lead them down a path of self-awareness, of remembering exactly how they landed into the ruined capillaries of the school in the first place. Yet, “the Dead Ones” isn’t solely about paying for one’s sins, honing in toward more of a cause and effect choice for redemption, which begs an essential question, that goes slightly under the radar of Kasten’s direction, on whether the two timelines are rather parallel to each other instead of rendering past and present events? It’s certainly one of those open ending conversations about what perils our souls could be fatefully curtailed under the corporeal spectrum by the choices we make while still living and breathing. For myself, connecting with Kasten’s carnivalesque and ultra-sleek horror panache has been difficult to digest and become accustom to, especially with my own personal dissatisfaction with the remake of “Wizard the Gore” that starred one of my favorite eccentric actors, Chrispin Glover, but Kasten relishes an unorthodox methodology that goes against the traditional grain of filmmaking and while that usually isn’t the problem for him, or any director, to be discouraged from, “The Dead Ones” ultimately tips over into the same disheartened gray area for one main reason – the editing. “The Dead Ones” is edited by Maxx Gillman whose chief credits are on short films and documentaries, marking Kasten’s film Gillman’s debut into feature film market, but as like a good documentary editor, “The Dead Ones” is overtly choppy that cuts up the scenes in an egregious way, thwarting any sense of conveying emotions and shortening them to near nauseating back-and-forth cuts. With a 73 minute runtime, the potential for lingering on the morose rhetoric or teetering compassion of the teens is lost and could have been stirred into their affixed affliction for a more targeted approach to their limbo circumstances. While timing might be less than desirable, Jeremy Kasten summons judgement for “The Dead Ones” to be convicted of unnerving decorum and executes psychological absolution with the tenderness of a Satan himself.
Surreal with a hard, open-hand slap of realism, the metaphysics of “The Dead Ones” shoots for an otherworldly life sentence as the September 29th release day for the Blu-ray and DVD is on the horizon courtesy of Artsploitation Films in association with Raven Banner. The Blu-ray was reviewed and is presented in high-def, 1080p with a 2.39:1, anamorphic widescreen, aspect ratio. The digitally recorded image is packed with visually popping nightmares under a slightly greenish warm tint while still propelling range into heavy fog, a seamless composite of scene transitions and matted visual effects, and copious amounts of rich shadows and shadowy characters. The overall tone of the “The Dead Ones” has a strong 90’s grunge manifestation with some CCTV black and white moments that would fit rightfully in before the turn of the century teen horror collective. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD master audio maintains clear dialogue pathways and a resounding, almost mechanical, score resembling that of an infernal machine at work. The ambient range and even a good chunk of the dialogue has a softer demeanor that sidesteps to the incessant score that would have rung about in Virgil’s Dante Inferno, as the school auditorium playbill show that’s transparent through the film. There is also optional Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The bonus features include a special effects featurette of the special effects work by the late Elvis Jones, on one of his works with “The Dead Ones,” and his intern Jax Smith, a set tour with production designer Jeffrey Pratt Gordon to showoff his vision of hell, and two commentary tracks alongside the film with commentaries by the director, producer, and crew. Saving a soul damned to hell sounds like an enormous feat of only divinity interaction can accomplish, but Jeremy Kasten finds virtue in sinful acts, imbedding a safety net in the guise of a forked path, and opens an ingress to a putrid perdition for those under more severe scrutiny than just “The Dead Ones.”