So I want to talk to you about a little known film……DEAD MAN’S SHOES. Released fourteen years ago, DEAD MAN’S SHOES is an important film for me personally. I was 22 years old when I first saw this film and just starting to realize that horror wasn’t just a hobby for me, it was a passion. It was also the first time I remember checking out the director (Shane Meadows) and was left wanting to know more about his other work. Shane Meadows has since gone on to become one of my favorite directors.
But on to the film itself. DEAD MAN’S SHOES is not your obvious horror movie. It’s a revenge thriller that is in essence, a slasher movie. But it’s like no other slasher you have ever seen.
Although the killer (Richard) does wear a mask at times (a gas mask), he is by no means anonymous. Unlike many killers he lets his potential victims know who he is, that he is after them and where he is living. In my favorite scene of the movie the ‘leader’ of the the gang our killer is after, Sonny, confronts Richard. You soon see that Richard is not in the least bit afraid of Sonny and Sonny realizes it. He tells him so and the Richard explains;
“If I were you, I’d get in that fuckin’ car and I’d get out of here, man. I’d gather them goonies and get whatever you’ve got and come at me, cause I’m gonna fuckin’ hit you all.”
Sonny replies that he doesn’t like to be threatened to which Richard, completely straight-faced and very very frighteningly explains;
“I’m not threatening you mate. It’s beyond fucking words. I watched over you when you were asleep and I looked at your fucking neck and I was that far away from slicing it.”
If you didn’t think so before, you now knew just how serious Richard is about killing these people.
Like much of his work, Meadows uses a mix of experienced and inexperienced actors. In fact, many of the inexperienced ones are appearing in their first movie here and it makes things even more fascinating. It also makes the conversation they have feel very natural – this is actually how normal people talk! Shane Meadows is, in my view, one of the best at bringing reality, day to day life, to the screen, using great dialogue and locations to compliment his use of otherwise mundane backdrops. This is what what makes this a very different kind of slasher movie, in the best possible way.
DEAD MAN’S SHOES is lead actor Paddy Considine’s ninth movie (he has since appeared in The Girl With All The Gifts, Hot Fuzz, The Bourne Ultimatum and much more!), but for me, this is his best performance. He is absolutely terrifying but you cant help but empathize with him and his mission. Even in some of the scariest and tense scenes, there’s an emotion in his voice and acting, which makes it impossible not to feel for him.
Toby Kebbell plays his brother Anthony who has learning disabilities. A difficult role to act but Kebbell is perfect. Quietly spoken, nervous and completely vulnerable. It’s amazing that this was his first ever acting role but it is much less of a surprise how great a career he’s had since (The recent Planet of the Apes movies, Kong: Skull Island, Gold).
This is a slasher where you will be rooting for the villain and that’s exactly the filmmakers intention. He has good reason to be killing them as they are just horrible, horrible people – bullies, drug dealers, abusers – you will want to see them dead. He’s not immortal, he’s not supernatural, he’s just a normal guy that you could easily identify with but he has a motive and he has no fear.
Many lower budget horror films suffer because they don’t know how to do death scenes without much money but Meadows knows exactly what he is doing. We don’t get to see a whole lot in the way of gore or blood or the actual moments people die but every death is still scarily brutal and violent.
There’s also an atmosphere created right from the beginning of the movie that is reminiscent to recent horror films such as Get Out and Hereditary. There’s that sense of dread that sits at the bottom of your stomach. And this is none more present than in the final scene. But there’s scenes throughout that just make you nervous. It’s hard to watch and exactly how the best horror movies should make you feel.
DEAD MAN’S SHOES, like all of the directors films, perhaps most importantly, has heart. It has emotion. You actually care about the characters and you breath every moment with them. The relationship between the two brothers is key and it is clear with his actions that Richard will do anything for his younger brother. But by the end of the movie he does start to feel guilty about what he has done, declaring that “I’m the monster”, even if he really doesn’t want to be.
If you only know Great Britain through Hollywood movies, Meadows’ films might be a shock to the system. But DEAD MAN’S SHOES is exactly what real-life Britain is like. From the streets and the countryside (which is somehow bleak and beautiful here) to the people and their interactions to their daily lives. This is a movie that couldn’t be made anywhere else in the world.
DEAD MAN’S SHOES is one of my favorite films ever and it’s not anywhere as well known as it should be. And it demands repeat viewings, so if you have never seen, be prepared that you will be watching it again and again, as well as telling all your friends about it.
It’s like a punch to the gut that then stays with you for days afterwards and it’s British cinema at its very best.