A sharply observed and brilliantly constructed micro-budget horror full of wit and feeling. Writer/directors Chris Bavota and Lee Paula Springer are names to look out for.
Dead Dicks is not as flippant as the title suggests, not by a long way. To be honest, that’s pretty clear even before the film opens, as a phone number is displayed for anyone affected by depression or self-harm. It touched a nerve for me (so acutely I couldn’t write about the film the night I saw it or the next); but I can’t get some images out of my head, whether I want to or not, and it deserves to be seen, so write I shall.
Dead Dicks is – on the surface – a simple film: like many micro-budget indie films set largely in one small set, with hardly any cast. The main characters are Richie (Heston Horwin) and his sister Becca (Jillian Harris), who have been taking care of each other for most of their lives, but each in their own way has reached a limit. Becca has received the offer of a new job far away and is struggling to break the news to Richie because of how dependent on her she feels he is. She decides she can’t put it off any longer, but then receives some frantic voicemails from Richie asking her to come round to his flat… but when she gets there, she finds him dead, hanging from a rail in his closet. Distraught, of course, Becca is confused when she turns to see a living Richie walking in from the kitchen with a bowl of cereal. He’s distraught too: he’s tried to kill himself several times, but each time, he comes round again as a living copy.
That’s the scenario to start off with, and although the idea of a man who can’t really die may sound pretty simple, the concept is developed and stretched in surprising ways. That’s not to say there is a huge amount of plot, as such: Dead Dicks is more about the themes of depression and sibling bonds than about action; though the story is incredibly engaging in itself too, not least because of the imaginative ways in which the Richie-spawning device is used.
The brother-sister pairing within Dead Dicks is what really makes it. Horwin and Harris are believably dedicated siblings, each of them in clear pain that they cannot find a way to make the other’s life easier. Their characters are astutely written so that between them they demonstrate a couple of truisms about mental health: whatever you’re going through, someone else close is going to be affected too; and no matter how close two people are, they cannot truly know how the other is feeling.
OK, so Dead Dicks is a pretty intense little film. But it’s also an entertaining horror at the same time. Richie realizes that killing himself just results in an extra dead body (and how many times can poor Becca face seeing her brother dead?), and has to work out what the Hell is going on, while at the same time trying to stay dead. There are, you know, deaths, injuries, and other pretty impressive special effects belying the small budget of this film. Chris Bavota and Lee Paula Springer wrote and directed it, a first feature for the pair, who had their UK premiere at this year’s Grimmfest. I have to wonder whether this will turn into an ongoing partnership (like Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead), but their intellect, imagination and creative skills have certainly produced a film I will not forget soon.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.