Deadsight (Jesse Thomas Cook, 2018) 2 out of 4 stars.
The horror subgenre of zombie films all started in 1968 with the infamous blunder made by George Romero’s distributor for Night of the Living Dead. This gaffe involved forgetting to put a copyright notice out for the film, and therefore having the zombie creature pioneered by Romero’s groundbreaking featurereleased into the public domain. Fifty-one years and hundreds of zombie films later, the creature has become a staple of many horror films but also one we’re surely feeling a bit fatigued of by now. I’d almost thought we’d seen the end of the subgenre come the mid-2010s with the onslaught of James Wan’s chilling Insidious and The Conjuring,along with their respective spinoffs and sequels as part of each franchise’s cinematic universe, and also with Jordan Peele’s spectacular pair of hit thrillers, Get Out and Us. However, likely due to the seemingly never-ending, uber-popular AMC’s The Walking Dead series, zombie films, albeit not at the pace or number they used to be, seem to keep being churned out year after year, some with interesting (and uninteresting) twists and takes on the creature that attempt to make each film “unique.”
Thus, we have Deadsight, a foray into these “unique” zombie films with different takes on the tired genre. Its distinguishing feature? Ben, the lead character played by Adam Seybold (Ejecta), is blind. Well, mostly blind. For most of the film. It’s a bit of a gray area. Director Jesse Thomas Cook (Monster Brawl) and writers Kevin Revie (the upcoming To Hell with Harvey) and Liv Collins (the short film Polished), who also stars in the film, begin the story with Ben waking up on a stretcher. We slowly learn that he’s in an ambulance, that the ambulance is abandoned on the side of a road by a cemetery, and that he cannot see. He escapes while fighting off a few zombies and high-tails it to an abandoned farmhouse. We are also introduced to Mara (Collins), a pregnant police officer, who wakes up in her suburban house bed and heads to work at the local police station as normal, having no clue what has happened. She soon coincidentally makes her way to the same farmhouse where Ben is and the two meet and team up in an attempt to find help and safety. Well, there you have it. A blind man and a pregnant woman take on the zombie apocalypse. What could possibly go wrong?
I’ll tackle the elephant in the room right away: the film is not scary, nor is it really tense at all. There are some jump scares throughout and, love ’em or hate ’em, these jump scares simply aren’t effective. There is little to no tension leading up to the scares, perhaps purposefully to add “shock” value, but it simply doesn’t work. The few scenes of tension in the film center on Ben taking on zombies blindly, but the zombies never seem like a real threat; Mara taking on the zombies is almost a cake walk. The zombies themselves are a bit strange: they seem almost too human-like, down to their movements and some of the sounds they make. There are some absurdly cheesy moments where the zombies seem to literally come out of nowhere, including jumping through a window, emerging from a corner, etc. There’s even a scene of a zombie playing dead and then jumping up to frighten a character, but these are not overabundant, thankfully. It is never clear if these zombies are supposed to be different or are your typical zombies, although the source of the virus is hinted at very briefly.
The performances are for the most part satisfactory, although I can count on one hand the number of characters in the film (minus the zombies, of course). Seybold’s performance as the intelligent, inventive Ben is the standout, while Collins’ Mara is a bit dry and devoid of emotion. Mara seems to be written as a rough, tough, gritty officer but comes off more as a mall cop of sorts, with no humor attached. Both characters are not fleshed out much at all, with very little dialogue between them and only hints at their past, which are never fully explored or brought to fruition. This can easily be forgiven in a terrifying film, but not so much in one that doesn’t tingle spines. The fun of the film is its premise: fighting an enemy you cannot see. Ben is very inventive, building contraptions to help him walk and fight, memorizing the layout of the farmhouse, being very observant with his other senses, and so on and so forth. These aspects are the film’s best and should have been the sole focus of the film. I could have seen Ben’s character carrying the whole film alone sans a supporting character. The moments of Ben fighting zombies are frustrating, but in a good way, in that we as the audience can clearly see the zombies but Ben cannot, often swinging and missing, looking in the complete opposite direction, or not noticing them at all. However, he comes up with different ways to get out of each situation he is in.
Overall, the film is okay. It’s not anything groundbreaking to write home about or unique enough to vastly differ from the horde of zombie films out there. But, as unique premises go, a blind man in a zombie apocalypse is a fun one, and, for some moments throughout the film, an interesting one. However, the film’s lack of characterization and absence of genuine fright weigh it down. In the world in which we live, with comparisons and references galore, I have to mention that Netflix’s Bird Box executes the blind premise much more effectively, with much better tension and more intriguing characters.
Deadsight opens on DVD, On Demand and Digital HD on July 2. See distributor RLJ Entertainment’s site for more details.