Sunday, April 25, 2010

Serial killer vs zombies at the die-ner

Die-ner (get it?) (2009)
Starring: Josh Grote, Liesel Kopp, Parker Quinn, Larry Purtell and Maria Olsen
Director: Patrick Horvath
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A wandering serial killer, Ken (Grote), is about to claim his latest victims at an isolated diner--an unhappily married couple (Kopp and Quinn)--when his past victims come back to haunt him. Literally. Ken's previous victims rise as unkillable zombies hungry of his flesh, as well as that of anyone who happens to be around him.

Every so often, I come across a low-budget indie film that should be required viewing for aspiring filmmakers everywhere, because its creators do everything right within the constraints of their time and budget.

"Die-ner (get it?) is one of those films.

With this movie, a first-time production group (first-time director/screenwriter, first-time producers, first-time stars, and so on...) have produced quality that people with hundreds of times their experience have not managed to achieve since the turn of the century--Charles Band, I'm looking at you.

First off, the director and producers clearly understood the constraints of their budget, and they conceived a story that takes place within a couple of different locations and that could be shot with minimal special effects. At no point did they overreach the means at their disposal, but you can see that they constantly made the most of what they had.

Second, the film is based on a great script. I often say that there is no excuse for any filmmakers to have a bad script, as the script is the one thing that should be completely in your control. It features some very funny lines and well-drawn characters. In fact, Patrick Horvath and the cast deserve much praise for managing to present us with characters we come to believe in and care about without slowing down the action or sacrificing any humor. More filmmakers need to take more care and time with their scripts, especially in the character development department.

Speaking of characters, a huge part of the film's success should be credited to its excellent cast. Its stars--Josh Grote as the smart-ass serial killer turned reluctant zombie slayer/researcher; Liesel Kopp & Parker Quinn as the feisty married couple who are struggling to escape both Ken and the zombies; and Larry Purtell as a hapless small-town sheriff--all give performances of a high caliber all too rarely seen in movies of this genre. Grote in particular is remarkable, as his inherent charm and delivery style of the laugh lines is such that he manages to make a truly detestable and twisted character fun to watch. (I could find no other credits for Grote with a Google search, but I certainly hope this can lead to more screen work for him. Movie lovers need more talent like this in our fare.)

The only real negative cricism I have of the film is that I feel some very odd choices were made with the editing and camera angles. The framing of many shots seem off--they reminded me of photos taken with cheap cameras that were available when I was a kid that didn't actually show you what would be in the picture when you looked through the viewfinder. The result is numerous scenes that seem like actors aren't quite on their marks or characters are doing things that should be in the frame but aren't.

If didn't happen so consistently throughout the film, I might have thought that the scene got screwed up due to a bad camera placement and the director and producters said "we don't have the time and money to reshoot.. fuck it" and let it stand. But it's so pervasive that it must have been an artistic decision. However, it's not an artistic decision I understand, and as interesting as it might be stylistically, it detracts more than it adds to the film.

This is not to say the film is perfect. Like the odd framing of shots, there are a couple of strange editing choices, although they might be the sort of thing that will be corrected between the advanced copy I viewed and the version that will make its way to a wider audience. There's also a bit with a zombie duct-taped to the floor which doesn't quite work, mostly because duct-tape isn't THAT adhesive but also because Grote keeps applying tape to the zombies chest during the scene when he should probably be taping arms and legs. (That may seem like nitpicking, but these elements really stood out as i watched the film, as they seemed like flaws rather than stylistic choices I don't get.)

Also, I would have l liked to have seen where that dream Ken had whenever he got conked on the head was going; it's the one loose end I wish had been tied up.

Still, the strong performances from the cast, the amusing dialogue, and the fast-paced story that still manages to work in plenty of character-defining bits make this one of the best low-budget pictures I've seen in recent years. And it's from a collection of first timers, all of whom I hope to see more from as their skills as craftsmen continue to grow.

Hardcore zombie movie fans may be disappointed by the level of gore in the film--it's fairly tame for this genre--but lovers of high-quality horror films won't be sorry for the time they spend on "Die-ner (get it?)".

For more information, visit the film's official website by clicking here.

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