Trauma has a variety of ways in which it manifests itself. Whether through the development of new fears, changes in behavioral patterns, or memory loss, our bodies and minds have always found a way to adapt to the introduction of trauma. In the case of memory loss, this characteristic adaptation of trauma usually is meant to protect us from the truth. If left unaddressed, it can have both micro and macro consequences over the course of a person’s life. So, when William in DEAD AIR, chooses to try to uncover this mental block surrounding his father’s death, it’s a big step forward for the character. However, the labeled supernatural thrill itself struggles under the weight of its execution and then some.
William (Kevin Hicks) is stuck in a metaphorical stasis. Dealing with the anniversary of his wife’s death, raising his two teenage daughters, and cleaning out the home of his recently deceased mother, the man has a lot going on. He is also dealing with leftover trauma from his childhood pertaining to his dad’s death, but he can’t remember what happened. Every time he tries to look back, he’s blocked. Fortunately, the man has sought out a therapist to try to work through this mental block.
During all of this, William has discovered his father’s old ham radio. In the process, he connects with a strange woman, Eva (Vickie Hicks), who is a recluse in her own home. Full of secrets, it takes time for the two to strike up a friendship. Will is far more open than the mysterious young woman he’s talking to. But the radio provides a way for William to work through his trauma for a time. However, his usage of the radio has woken something that struggles to communicate with him. To remind him of what else he is forgetting and, while it takes painstaking time to unveil the secrets in DEAD AIR, the truth behind William’s father’s death will come to light and will surprise some viewers.
The premise of DEAD AIR is full of promise, but fails to thrill or titillate despite its description of being a supernatural thriller. The supernatural component is revealed far too late and, for those who would go into viewing the film expecting something more, they will be disappointed. In terms of what would define this as a thriller, the pacing and heavy dialogue make the film itself a slog to get through. Thrillers have always been stamped with the difficulties of execution and, for an indie film much like this, the odds were already stacked against this film for being able to successfully execute the feeling of tension necessary for a thriller. As such, I am far more likely to dissuade viewers if they are seeking this film out because of the lure of it being designated a thriller.
Now, if a viewer wants something more akin to drama, DEAD AIR manages to successfully capture that essence. As a film, the drama elements are still a sludge to get through due to pacing and how the scenes are constructed. At times, I wondered if the film itself would do better as a theatrical production on stage rather than be presented as a film. If that is not something the team has in mind for the future, DEAD AIR could have used a couple of re-writes to move it away from that feeling. However, the essence of what is in the script is promising and lends itself to finding a home more in the drama genre than the thriller genre.
Another element that will take people out of the film is the over-the-top performances. Referring back to my comment about the film feeling more made for theatre than a film, the performance direction read as if I was watching a scene play out on stage. Projected volume, overly-pronounced diction, and non-subtle reactions gave the air of theatricality that DEAD AIR did not require. And, for a film that dissects trauma, the performances conveyed by both Kevin Hicks and Vickie Hicks felt surface level. If the performances were more subtle across the board in execution and if more layers were interwoven into the performance, it would have given more credibility to the scenario playing out onscreen. As it was, it was difficult to believe the characters and the interactions because it felt like watching someone act rather than just be.
Overall, DEAD AIR is mostly dead on arrival. The film’s pacing and heavy-dialogue focus make it difficult to get through and, by the time the supernatural elements and answers start to reveal themselves, it’s difficult to grab the interest of the viewer. The acting itself also could have benefited from being more subtle. As the performances stand now, they are too over-the-top to feel natural for what the script requires. If you want something that’s more slow-paced drama than a supernatural thriller, this film might be right for you.
DEAD AIR is now available on a number of digital and cable platforms, including iTunes, Amazon Video, and Vudu.