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Dead Inside, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A dark romantic comedy musical with zombies and so much more."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: Films like Travis Betz's "The Dead Inside" are some of my favorites to write about. Not so much the genre - although, let's face it, you don't pass up a chance to write up singing zombies - but because it's a well-made movie that goes in clever, often funny (but often not), directions. Plus, the surprises start coming early, so there's the challenge of saying just why it's so cool without giving the game away.

We start with the zombies, Harper (Sarah Lassez) and Max (Dustin Fasching), who know that there is a delicious young woman on the other side of a door. However, while they are able to converse well enough with each other, that locked door is too much of a challenge for their zombie brains. And they are not in line for a whole lot of help, as the tiny room beyond contains Fiona (also Lassez). Fiona's a writer of a series of books starring Harper and Max, and the locked door has her stuck. And as her boyfriend Wes (also Fasching) - a wedding photographer growing sick of weddings - soon discovers, it's rather worse than a simple case of writer's block; Fi seems to be having a full-fledged breakdown. Or, as the surprising direction Harper's and Max's story takes indicates, something stranger may be afoot.

Many independent movies confine themselves to a small cast and a single location out of necessity; many horror movies do so to keep the tension up. Few make such a virtue of it as The Dead Inside, where people other than Fi, Wes, and their alter egos are glanced (or heard) only briefly, and the decision not to redress the sets between the Fi/Wes and Harper/Max sequences reinforces both just how similar the couples are and what sort of turmoil Fi is undergoing. Betz moves between the scenarios smoothly, sometimes during songs, sometimes with shots of Fi at the computer, but never with the intent to confuse.

The script is a model of economy; the zombie scenes roughly parallel what's going on otherwise, but not to the point of being duplication. The string of new information we get in Fi and Wes's story changes things up on a regular basis, but it never comes out as arbitrary; Betz makes sure that the first thing we hear makes sense, but what we learn later makes even more sense. It is a kind of talky screenplay; being in the house means that we are generally relying on characters telling us things, rather than discovering them through their actions. He and Joel Van Vliet come up with a handful of fun songs (including a memorable one about barricading yourself in during the zombie apocalypse), and it's a very funny movie throughout. It's oddball humor, coming from zombie stupidity that bounces between deadpan and self-parody on the one side and characters who come across as kindred spirits with the audience and each other.

That's especially true of Fiona, who is given a number of quirks that Sarah Lessez converts into equal parts charm and insecurity. We kind of have to get to know her quickly, as the Fi we meet early on is going to undergo a few changes by the end of the film. She does a great job of it; the audience falls for her quickly, and that's just the start of what is really a quite remarkable performance. Betz puts a tremendous amount of this movie on her back, and she bears all of those burdens more or less perfectly. It would be giving away too much to say just exactly what she does; suffice it to say that her work makes it easy to take Dustin Fasching for granted, and all he's doing is playing a double role and serving as the audience's anchor for the second half of the movie, selling us on something that we certainly wouldn't have believed in at the beginning of the film. And that's not getting into how well they work together; they make for a funny or interesting pair no matter what permutation the audience is looking at.

It's easy to take the whole film for granted, actually - most just hearing about it or seeing the first few scenes will pigeonhole "The Dead Inside" as "the zombie musical", which is a fair enough characterization. It is quirky and fannish. It's also clever and emotional in ways that have nothing to do with fan-baiting, and will likely catch some folks looking for a goofy little mash-up by surprise.

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originally posted: 04/12/11 12:35:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2011 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/27/12 Porfle Popnecker Impressive and very entertaining 4 stars
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Directed by
  Travis Betz

Written by
  Travis Betz

  Sarah Lassez
  Dustin Fasching

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