Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Tremendously enjoyable."

First of all, a word about titles. If you're going to make a horror movie - even a horror comedy - don't call it Dead. That's like writing a romance and calling in Love or writing a war movie and calling it War. It's forgettable, unsearchable. Okay, a very few iconic films get away with such things, but this one is not of that calibre. It is, however, well worth searching for and tremendously enjoyable.

Co-writer Thomas Sainsbury plays Marbles, a man who can see dead people. That is, with the aid of marijuana and neurological medication, he's able to observe the ghosts that are all around us, and whilst some people (like his mum) regard him as a hopeless stoner layabout, he spends his time using this ability, free of charge, to try and help people. So far this has been moving but mundane work - helping old couples to get closure and so on. His quiet life is turned upside down when dead cop Tagg (co-writer and director Hayden J Weal) comes looking for him.

Tagg hasn't passed away peacefully - he's been murdered in the line of duty. His last wish, before his spirit passes over, is to catch the killer. It's a mission made more urgent by the fact that he believes the same person to be responsible for six other deaths. Fortunately his foster sister Yana (Tomai Ihaia) has been working with him on the case, so he does have an ally in the world of the living. He just needs Marbles to communicate with her on his behalf. Inevitably, complications ensue and Marbles ends up way out of his depth, trying to help a man he would once have gone out of his way to avoid to track down a dangerous foe.

A clever little film with a few tricks up its sleeve, this is far more than the simple supernatural buddy comedy it looks like. It creators have had the sense to keep ghostly shenanigans to a minimum in favour of focusing on character dynamics and crafting a solid mystery. Sainsbury and Weal have a natural chemistry akin to that between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, gently flirtatious despite the characters' initial dislike for each other but developing into real warmth as the story goes on.

Marbles really has just one talent and is useless at most other things, or believes he is, so he seems genuinely threatened in any kind of confrontation, whilst Tagg's bravado only gets him so far when he can't make physical contact with most of what's around him. Like most would-be hero cops, he turns out to have a more personal stake in the investigation than he initially admits, and has a few things to learn from his new stoner friend.

A gentle comedy with some beautifully crafted dialogue, Dead is one of those films you'll find yourself hunting down every few months when you're feeling low, knowing that it will bring a smile to your face. It's messy in places and the final scenes are unnecessarily complicated, but it has a lot of personality and a lot of heart. Do keep watching as the credits roll - there's more fun (and a minor plot twist) there too.

From 1091 Pictures, Dead is available to purchase or rent.

Reviewed on: 06 Oct 2020
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Dead packshot
Marbles, a hapless stoner, can see ghosts. Tagg, a recently dead wannabe super-cop, needs to find a serial killer. Can a critical ghost cop and a directionless stoner get over their prejudices and work together to save lives - and deaths?
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Director: Hayden J Weal

Writer: Thomas Sainsbury, Hayden J Weal

Starring: Emily Campbell, Michael Hurst, Tomai Ihaia, Mayen Mehta, Kanye Peters

Year: 2020

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: New Zealand


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