DEAD LOVE IS A HORROR FILM ON LIFE SUPPORT
Ah, love. What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me. I love you. You love me. Let’s get together and be one happy fucking family. Whether or not you’re a fan of Night at the Roxbury or remember a certain stuffed, oversized, talking dinosaur with a very punchable face from the nineties, you probably recognize the combination of lyrics above. That’s because love is, has been, and always will be the most popular theme in every form of art imaginable. You can’t get away from love. Lyrics like the ones above stick with you, somewhere in the back of your mind, whether you hate the song or not, like an incessant drum beat. Love, love, love, love. I’m rambling on about all this nonsense, because if you’re already sick of me discussing love, I can practically guarantee that Dead Love will drive you mad.
Directed by Colin Floom & Greg Nemer and written by Emanuel Isler & Chad Israel (both having collaborated on The Charnel House), Dead Love tells the story of Brandon (Grayson Low), a man whose mother has just died. Upon seeing him, the funeral director, Fiona (Nicole Elizabeth Olson) instantly falls in love with Brandon and wants him to be hers. But there is more behind Fiona’s obsession than simply wanting a man in her life.
To say that Dead Love is an odd story would be a massive understatement. This is about as quirky of a concept as it gets, at least to kick things off. The strangeness of Fiona deciding that this guy, WHOM SHE HAS NOT MET, is the one for her based off of a note written by his deceased mother, is bizarre in and of itself. But for her to then meet Brandon, look at him, and think this shy, quiet, heartbroken guy is a juicy lamb for her to pounce on…actually I guess that’s what happens to women always, so maybe it’s not that weird. Either way, this is not your typical set-up to a love story, nor is it supposed to be. With this being a supposed “horror/thriller”, there IS something sinister going on beneath the surface here. It’s just shocking that Brandon doesn’t just take off running when Fiona breaks into a random song about death and his mother while having dinner. Run, Brandon, run!
In all seriousness, the leads are, without question, the strength of the film, and go a long way in allowing the audience to accept the absurdity occurring onscreen. Low and Olson have an exceptional chemistry, rendering this rather forced romance a lot more believable. Both are relatively inexperienced actors, (in particular Olson, as this is her first film), yet each emanates a sad desperation to either love or be loved that captured my attention and quickly endeared me to these characters. Brandon, having lost his mother, finds himself pushing everyone away, while Fiona is drawn to Brandon and is trying to do everything in her power to make him see her as a person he can let in. The pair work as opposing forces, pushing against each other rather than coming closer, and their relationship has all the makings for a good love story. There isn’t a lot in the script for these two to work with, but both are strong enough actors that they manage to bring out raw, personal emotions that tugged at my black heart strings. There is no doubt that scenes where Low and Olson are on screen together are when Dead Love is at its strongest. Where the film falters is by not giving Fiona enough of an edge. She has her secrets, and Olson demonstrates that she is capable of playing up the darker side of the character, but that darkness is hardly ever a focus or really even hinted at in her scenes with Brandon.
Love is the theme here, and the filmmakers don’t seem to have any intention of exploring the more horrific layers of the plot, or any sense of conflict, really. In fact, Dead Love wants to be so sure that viewers don’t forget what sort of film they’re watching, that the script repeatedly hammers the theme into their faces. The word love is said so many times, that if the Irish were to make a drinking game out of it, one shot for every mention of the word, the entirety of Ireland would be dead in an hour. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy romantic films, and romance in horror can be especially fascinating (Bride of Frankenstein, anyone?), but when every scene is completely dictated by the word “love” itself, it can become obnoxious. Nearly every moment concerns characters either saying they love someone, they don’t love someone, does this person love me, should I love them, and round and round we go on this endless carousel going nowhere. The dialogue between Fiona and her sister, Caterina (Kate Linder), is particularly frustrating. Unlike our lead pairing, these two have zero chemistry together, and all of their scenes are used as forceful exposition on Linder’s part. The dialogue is so unnatural at times, the two might as well be on a first date asking each other what their favorite colors are and discussing the weather. The audience will beg for them to call for the check, but the bad date never seems to end.
Dead Love takes its time-far too much of it-to establish the pain of love lost and love needed. We’ve all been on both sides of the spectrum, and in that, these themes are relatable. Our four main characters, including Caterina’s husband, Lassiter (Bob Buckley), all portray a different aspect of the timeless L-word. In that sense, Dead Love is an interesting piece on what that feeling does to us as human beings. Like the emotion itself though, Dead Love is inconsistent. The film badly wants to be some hybrid of a horror film, littered with macabre images from nightmares, a supernatural sub plot, and what could have been a grotesque finale, but the filmmakers do little to establish any sense of real tension throughout the film. The first obvious notion that this is indeed a horror film of sorts comes about an hour into the film-which, at that point, is an hour too late-and at a running time of just under eighty minutes, the “twist” reveal isn’t enough to suddenly engage viewers who have already checked out from the tiring he loves me, he loves me not, A story. Dead Love meanders around for so long without really going anywhere, and the twist is revealed with such a hand-wavy explanation, that I wonder if the filmmakers would have been better off diving into the creepier aspects of the film instead of waiting too long in an attempt to “surprise” viewers by shedding a light on Fiona’s secrets, which, to be fair, aren’t all that unpredictable.
At its best, Dead Love comes off like an adaptation of a stage tragedy, with an honest approach to the theme of love and its various costs. At its worst, Dead Love is slow to the point of being utterly agonizing, and pays too little attention to the more interesting elements of its plot. Low and Olson would work wonderfully on stage together, and would likely move the audience with their troubled romance, but as a filmic experience, Dead Love rips its own beating heart out by pushing the unique aspects of its story to the side and delivering a film which is, as far as excitement goes, dead inside. Needless to say, Dead Love will not be receiving any heartfelt Valentine’s Day cards from me.