Make-Out With Violence
Directed by The Deagol Brothers
Make-Out with Violence is a movie about summer love and zombies, but it resists being categorized easily as a movie about either—for reasons good and bad. It boils down, maybe, to a cleverly conceived but dragged-out allegory of a teenager who won't let go of a puppy crush, basically asking, how would James Hurley have dealt with that whole Laura Palmer thing if she'd risen from the grave? When high-school senior Wendy (Shellie Marie Shartzer) goes missing and presumed dead, it's hard for everyone in her small town to deal: her boyfriend, her best friend, her general acquaintances. But it's hardest—as he frequently reminds the other characters—for Patrick (Eric Lehning), who nursed for her the kind of silent but soul-consuming crush common to adolescence. His pain eases some when his brothers find Wendy's bruised and bluish body, impossibly reanimated and tied up by the river, and hide it in a friend's bathroom. There, Patrick can tend to her like a houseplant—one that's more Audrey II than azalea—giving him an outlet for the feelings that outlived their original object.
Make-Out slips into a black comedy about the trials of keeping a mute zombie that hardly ever even moves (except when it contorts in eerie J-horror herkyjerks): what does it eat? (Answer: live rats.) Can we dress it? But the characters are so morosely stoical—do kids today simply feel stonily?—that the jokes land awkwardly, if it all; and the drama goes returned-to-sender for similar reasons. But the biggest of Make-Out's many problems is its lack of focus: aside from Patrick's zombie-tending, there's the crush his twin brother, Carol (Cody DeVos), nurtures for Wendy's erstwhile biffle (Leah High); the brothers' deteriorating relationship; a new girl, from out-of-town (Tia Shearer, in the Maddy Ferguson Role), who crushes on Carol; and various hangers-on given too-prominent introductions for the minor parts they'll actually play in the story.
The film's conspicuous failings are especially unfortunate because, visually, Make-Out is so easy to enjoy. The Deagol Brothers infuse the film with a vigor and style that reflects the exuberance of youth, particularly during that magical summer-before-college. The movie is best in its slo-mo reveries, its wistful recollections of warmer-months love, its evocations of cusp-of-autumn suburbs experienced on bicycle. (It's not unlike "Donnie Darko directed by Wes Anderson," with a less precious sense of hip.) At times, the movie skips beautifully between flashes of memory, mimicking the peripateticism of true thought. Yet for such visual fluency and fluidity, the movie is drenched in a hipster rock soundtrack—Jordan Lehning contributes enough songs to fill a triple album—and narrated to death. (Not even the strange magic that resurrects Wendy could help!) Make-Out With Violence is so overloaded with plot, people and panache that though I left the theater with enthusiasm, it was less for this film than over what these talented but flawed directors might do next.
Opens August 27 at reRun Gastropub Theater