It takes true intestinal fortitude to make a zombie flick these days. Doing so means taking on "The Walking Dead" juggernaut - AMC's show has mined just about every vein of undead story you could think of, so in order to do something fresh, filmmakers have to not just think outside the box - they need to throw the box into a pit of slavering zombies and make sure it gets completely obliterated.
Enter DEAD SHACK, a Canadian zombie flick by first time director, Peter Ricq which is currently part of the lineup at Fantasia Film Festival 2017. Roger (Donavon Stinson) takes his two kids - Summer and Colin - and their friend Jason on a winter vacation in the woods. The "neighbor" (Lauren Holly) that lives in the cabin nearby is harboring a dark secret - her family is dead. Well, actually, they're undead. And she's keeping them "alive" by killing unsuspecting passers-through and feeding her undead family the remains. The kids discover the horror next door, and find themselves in a battle for their lives.
DEAD SHACK is all about the cast. The film has a snappy sense of humor and the characters have genuine chemistry. The banter is consistently fun, taking jabs at millennials (or the generation even younger than millennials) and the zombie genre as a whole. It plays out like a really gory episode of "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" or "Goosebumps".
The story is a variation on the "teens see something they're not meant to see and no one believes them" trope, playing on the frustrations felt by young people when they're not taken seriously by adults. While Ricq mostly takes a comedic approach to the material, he makes a dark tonal shift toward the end, shedding earlier lighthearted antics for some heavier occurrences that aren't played for laughs.
As a debut, DEAD SHACK is impressive. It is, however, very short, and I would have liked the characters to have more room for growth. While it won't shake the foundations of the genre, DEAD SHACK does enough right with its cast that ensures it warrants more of your attention than the vast horde of zombie flicks shambling across the horizon.
DEAD SHACK had it's North American Premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on July 22nd.