There’s always that moment in zombie movies where one of the protagonists gets infected and his loved ones have to deal with the fact that someone they loved dearly is suddenly wants to eat their brains. But that’s all it usually is, a moment. Then the heroes have to either man up and kill them or get eaten themselves. Festival circuit favorite “Make-Out With Violence,” is like a 100-minute exploration of that moment. This is a zombie film turned inside out. Instead of following the typical arc of illness, epidemic, survival it uses that idea of someone coming back to life to tell a powerful story about loss and denial. You’ve never seen a zombie movie quite like this.
Make-Out With Violence
Directed by The Deagol Brothers
Tagline: Death Is the Present Tense
Tweetable Plot Synopsis: Twin brothers who’ve just graduated from high school find their friend who’d recently disappeared still alive…sort of.
Biggest Success: With conventions as deeply rooted as any horror subgenre, it’s hard to make a truly original zombie movie. But The Deagol Brothers (actually longtime friends and filmmaking partners Chris Doyle and Andy Duensing) managed to do just that by using the language of zombie movies as a means to tell an unconventional love story. The only way the movie works, though, is if their untraditional horror film has an untraditional zombie, and the credit in that department belongs to actress Shellie Marie Shartzer, who plays Wendy, the girl who goes missing and is then found in the woods by brothers Carol (Cody DeVos) and Beetle (Brett Miller). Wendy looks like your standard issue undead: glazed eyes, pasty, pale skin, crusty wounds, and unhealthy appetites. And she’s playing a zombie so, of course, Shartzer can’t speak. But the way the actress tells a story through movement and posture and pure physical performance makes Wendy a landmark movie zombie. Her head lolls on her neck as if her spine’s broken. She stands up torso first, without using her arms, so that it looks like some supernatural force is pulling her up from the ground. Horror nerds love to argue about whether zombies should shuffle or run, as if one is more “realistic” than the other. Generally, I think this distinction is stupid since zombies are not real and thus do not demand realism. But Shartzer’s work makes it easy to buy into “Make-Out With Violence”‘s fiction. That, you think to yourself, is exactly how a dead person would move.
Best Moment: “Make-Out With Violence” is extremely well-edited throughout by Brad Bartlett and the Deagol Brothers, but the opening sequence, which establishes the characters, the setting, the mystery of Wendy’s disappearance, and the greater mystery of reappearance, is the structural highlight. Zombie movies are about what happens when two diametrically opposed states of being, i.e. life and death, are forced to co-exist. The first fifteen minutes of “Make-Out With Violence” brilliantly does the exact same thing, as Beetle’s stream-of-consciousness narration blends past, where Wendy was alive, and the present, where Carol and his twin brother Patrick (Eric Lehning) are devastated by her disappearance. That jumbled chronology puts these characters somewhere between the lands of the living and the dead, in a place where a reanimated corpse suddenly feels a lot more natural.
I Question: the Deagol’s decision to cast the film’s co-writers, DeVos and Lehning, as their leads. I’m sure this film was a long-time passion project for all of four filmmakers, who helped fund the project by forming a band and performing the soundtrack they penned for the film. And I would not be surprised to learn that the use of DeVos and Lehning as Carol and Patrick was a decision borne as much out of frugality as anything else. But the fact remains that “Make-Out With Violence,” is a story about teenagers, and the men playing those teenagers look about ten years too old for their roles. At times that choice creates an interesting tension between innocence and experience, and between the story onscreen and the reality off it. But the rest of the time — most of the time — it’s just an unwanted distraction.
Worthy of a Theatrical Release? “Make-Out With Violence” did get an extremely limited theatrical release earlier this year but despite its flaws, it is definitely a film worthy of a wider audience, particularly amongst horror connoisseurs looking for movies that redefine what the genre can be instead of simply rehashing what it already is. Let’s hope it finds it on DVD.
For Further Viewing: watch an excerpt from another of my favorite reinventions of the zombie movie, “Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead Part 2: In Shocking 2-D,” the legendary cult film that “What’s Up Tiger Lily?”s “Night of the Living Dead.” And, yes, that is the real title.