Dead Shack

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Dead Shack
"It's hard to demand too much finesse from a film centred on characters who lack all traces of it, and who are great fun to be with anyway."

Part of a new wave of Canadian horror films which maintain that Canadians can do anything Americans can do whilst putting away a lot more beer, Dead Shack is a film about family values which has managed to get landed with a US R certificate for putting children in peril - when, by and large, the kids are alright, and it's the parents one has to worry about.

Just a little too young for spending the holidays in hot tubs drinking cheap lager with cheaper friends, Summer (Lizzie Boys) and her brother Colin (Gabriel LaBelle) only get to visit a remote cabin in the woods on a family holiday, with Colin's friend Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood) tagging along at the last minute. Dad Roger (Donavon Stinson) says it will be fun, but all he really wants is to get some time alone with twentysomething girlfriend Lisa (Valerie Tian) so they can focus on hard drinking and hard - well, you get the idea. This leaves the teenagers bored and looking for trouble. Since they're basically well behaved, they don't start fires or fights, but they do become intrigued by their neighbour's house and, when peering through the windows, witness something that puts recent disappearances in the area in a different light.

Copy picture

Given the way the film opens, it's not much of a spoiler to note that the neighbour is a cannibal. In fact, she has a whole cannibal family to feed. Clad in biker leathers and a welding mask, a look which is used to delightful effect on the film's poster, she makes quick work of slow-witted men who stray into her path. But when Colin tries to warn his dad about her, his dad - quite inebriated by this time - fails to take him seriously and decides they should all visit the 'sexy cannibal lady'. It's up to the teenagers to save him, and to deal with the other, unexpect horrors they find in the house.

With a slow build-up that allows lots of time for developing character, Dead Shack establishes a family as endearing as it is dysfunctional. We never quite get to see the same side of the neighbours, but the point that, in that case, a parent is looking after her children is well made. Then there's Jason, the outsider, keeping secrets about his own family and out of his depth in multiple ways, not least because he's shy around girls. The relationships between all these different characters are beautifully observed, with jokes at their expense never threatening to erode audience sympathy. This makes the brutal moments in the film hit a lot harder.

Those moments need a bit of help. Despite showing some imaginative flair elsewhere, debut feature director Peter Ricq falls back on genre formulae when it comes to the violence, and this combines with distinctly unpolished special effects to let the film down in places. There are also shortcomings in the lighting department which at times make the action hard to follow. Enthusiastic unpleasantness on the part of the bad guys goes some way to making up for this. It's hard to demand too much finesse from a film centred on characters who lack all traces of it, and who are great fun to be with anyway.

Dead Shack doesn't get everything right, but it has a lot of heart (and lungs, and guts, and shrivelled livers), and with energy and wit in its favour as well, it can't go too far wrong.

Reviewed on: 10 Aug 2017
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Dead Shack packshot
A group of teens on a weekend getaway at a secluded cabin in the woods soon find themselves fighting off a serious threat to their lives. Not only that they must save their hard-partying parents from a predatory neighbour.

Director: Peter Ricq

Starring: Lauren Holly, Valerie Tian, Donavon Stinson, Lizzie Boys, June B Wilde

Year: 2017

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Canada


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