A fever dream of a film that like any good dream won’t make any sense until you’ve passed through to the other side of it. The Dead Ones is the tale of two realms in one story, of the real and the surreal. In one realm there is the world of reality but in the other there is a hellish landscape that disorients in surreal effect. While it may seem like a pure chaos blend of horror tropes in the beginning moments, hang in there…it’s about to become a wild ride!
A school bus travels along a road in what seems to be a desert, in the back four misfit teenagers sit with odd stillness. They soon arrive at an abandoned high school where they are told to clean by an authoritative teacher named Ms. Persephone (an ode to the Greek goddess who ruled in Hades). The students are made up of a juvenile delinquent named Scottie (Brandon Thane Wilson), bi-polar cutter Emily (Katie Foster), aggression fueled Louis (Torey Gaza) and outcast inteligencia Alice aka Mouse (Sarah Rose Harper). Through the strange hallways of the high school they perform menial cleaning tasks and learn of each others stories. Scottie beat up his bullies and was declared violent, pills have never worked for Emily her intense romance with Louis reflects his own mania and Mouse shares the heart wrenching story of abuse and a murdered pet mouse. Emotions begin to run a bit high as they discover strange artificats of their pasts in each of the classrooms, doors are locked, Ms. Persephone is found murdered and a strange gas begun to leak through the vents. Shadows begin to move along the wall and what can only be described as a group of trenchcoat wearing Predators begin to stalk through the hallways. Images flash, we suddenly witness a school shooting underway by the trenchcoat predators who we learn refer to themselves as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And suddenly we are returned to the surreal realm where we are pointed to the left over sign outside the auditorium announcing the school’s performance of Dante’s Inferno. The hunt is then on and it’s up to these four misfit students to figure out why they have been sentenced here and who it is behind the masks of the Four Horsemen.
To give away anymore of this movie would be of disservice to the genuine surprise that awaits. For all of it’s feverish imagery and pacing, The Dead Ones manages to land an impressive tie off that leaves you looking back at the film with clarity. Writer Zach Chassler and Director Jeremy Kasten have taken a bold step with The Dead Ones. Not only concerned with the difficult matter of school shootings but also layering it with a dimensional rift is a genuinely well crafted feat of storytelling. Though there’s a bit of a wait into understanding what’s happening, it’s all within good reason and ultimately makes the pay off all that much more important when you understand what’s happening. There are many sub plot details and character decisions that make for exciting twists and set pieces. In particular the high school auditorium dressed up in preparation for a performance of Dante’s Inferno becomes a very featured piece that’s always exciting to see on screen, though I can understand how some may get tired of one too many elbow nudges toward the alliteration.
If surreal hellscapes, villainous gun toting trench coats and hallways of teenaged angst sounds like a good time to you, step right on up and take your seat on this unforgettable summer class trip!