Dead Envy


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Dead Envy
"This is an effective little thriller that finds its strength not in the glamour of rock n' roll but in the ordinary."

Director Harley Di Nardo had another career before getting into filmmaking - as lead singer of Closer and, later, White Light Motorcade. Rock n' roll isn't something it's easy to leave behind, and all too many artists rely on trying to hang onto the limelight by combing the two - almost never a good idea. With Dead Envy, Di Nardo has been a bit smarter, not trying to present himself as a sex god or superstar but instead taking on the role of David, a middle-aged former rock star whose glory days are very much behind him. With a loving wife (played by Samantha Smart) who humours his dreams of returning to stardom but laments his fixation on nostalgia, this likeable but troubled man comes across like an addict trying to keep his habit under control. Some days are harder than others.

David and his wife, Cecily, run a hairdressing salon which is just about managing to pay the bills. They both work hard, saving the music for nights off, and they've acquired some loyal clients. When, one day, a young man called Javy (Adam Reeser) comes looking for a job in the salon, Cecily is intrigued to discover that he's a musician himself, and surprised to discover that he's actually quite good. She presses David to listen to his tape and consider how he might help him. David finds himself both admiring and jealous of the newcomer, who also seems just a little too affectionate with Cecily. But there's much more going on with Javy than is apparent on the surface, and soon all three of them find themselves in a much more difficult situation.

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Although the central themes are familiar ones and they play out in what are mostly familiar ways, there are subtleties to the story that make it more interesting than many similar films. David and Cecily's relationship is well drawn and Di Nardo, though he still has room to grow as an actor, boldly takes on the complexity of David's feelings at a difficult stage in life. It would have been interesting to see more made of these aspects of the story, but the film is pitched as a thriller, so has to get on with the job. As relations between the three begin to disintegrate, Reeser gives a confident performance with an edge of realism which reveals his character as damaged as well as damaging and invites that dangerous degree of sympathy in situations where there's no room for making mistakes.

There are clumsy moments when the story lapses into formula, and threads that concern Javy's home life and a regular salon client's visions are curiously underdeveloped, as if they were originally meant to play a more significant role but the film ran out of time. Nevertheless, this is an effective little thriller that finds its strength not in the glamour of rock n' roll but in the ordinary. A superficially happy ending adds its own moral complexity in a film that hinges on the tension between being oneself and giving people what they want.

Reviewed on: 20 Aug 2018
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Dead Envy packshot
An ageing rock musician is drawn to a young man he thinks has unusual talent, but the young man has a hidden agenda of his own.

Director: Harley Di Nardo

Writer: Harley Di Nardo, Stacy Hullah

Starring: Harley Di Nardo, Adam Reeser, Samantha Smart, Carla Wynn

Year: 2018

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: US


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