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Dead Dicks

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/21/20 09:43:08

"A nifty blend of the tragic and the absurd."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL 45: I find myself inclined to cut "Dead Dicks" an extra little bit of slack because here's something just tantalizing and absurd enough about the concept that one wants to see it done even if there's probably no way to make it something one can actually believe in. So while the filmmakers often have some trouble stretching their movie far enough to cover absolutely everything that they want to include, the narrative membrane doesn't quite get so thin as to tear, and that it lives right on the line between "very much independent" and "underground" works to its advantage.

The filmmakers put a content warning about suicide on the front, and the film earns it right away, showing a young man (Heston Horwin) committing suicide. It then moves to his sister Becca (Jillian Harris), who has just been accepted to nursing school with a focus on treating mental illness, the faculty feeling her personal experience will be of benefit. So she goes to work as a bartender, only to receive messages from her brother all night, eventually alarming her enough to go check on him. She does not, as the opening might suggest, find him dead, but just more inconsiderate than usual, walking around naked, cranking the stereo loud enough for downstairs neighbor Matt (Matt Keyes) to threaten calling the police. No, he's called her because there's something on one of his walls that births a new Richie when he dies - and he has killed himself several times that day.

Since death is not permanent within those walls, Dead Dicks is not entirely about suicide itself but mental health in general, magnified. Filmmakers Chris Bavota & Lee Paula Springer place these siblings in a small space and then run Richie through cycles of of highs and lows, thinking he's found a shortcut around dealing with his problems or has been given a fresh start without any actual work on the underlying issues. It leaves the sister who has often taken on the responsibility of dealing with the fallout a bigger, bloodier mess to wrangle - indeed, by the end, it's clear that she is as in need of a chance to hit reset as her brother, as she is just as trapped, with it quite likely that there is no satisfying exit to be found from this situation.

It's odd to say that one of the things I like about Dead Dicks is that it encourages the audience to get frustrated with its mentally ill title character without less guilt than might be typical, and doesn't treat it as a secret power (Richie is an artist, but creativity is not treated as a side-effect of his depression). The present asymmetry in the siblings' relationship plays as honest, and helps put the audience in a place where they feel how lous Becca's options can be, playing on the instinct to make accommodations in a way that isn't blindly contrarian, rather giving the characters freedom to make decisions that the audience may need a second or two to accept. That helps the small cast do their work immensely - Heston Horwin can play Richie as having quickly accepted his situation because it fits his personality to have that sort of tunnel vision, while Jillian Harris is able to sink a little with every extra bit of weight she takes on. They've got a natural rapport that establishes a lifetime of history binding them together even before they start spelling it out.

It's still got some big issues, aside from how the big wall-vagina is minimalist enough that the audience is either going to have to decide to roll with it or bail earl. The biggest issue is that Springer and Bavota often seem to be making rules up as they go along to keep the premise from falling apart; that a lot of these rules come from Richie helps some because it allows them to be questionable rather than something to be accepted instantly and completely, but it's contradictory enough in places to feel like the filmmakers didn't think through Richie not thinking things through. That includes an ending that generally feels like it doesn't quite match the rest of the film, both in terms of the mechanics not quite fitting and the resolution being a bit unsatisfying.

Sometimes a story like this is just about what a situation is like rather than how to fix it, and maybe that's for the best in a fantasy like this. It settles better with a little thought, which means the film it's likely to improve a bit in one's estimation later, even if it initially might be a bit of a stretch.

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