THE CIVIL DEAD is an indie comedy ghost story about friendship— eh…in theory, anyway. But is jack-of-all-trades Clay Tatum’s vision dead-on? Or is THE CIVIL DEAD all just tricks of the light?
The story centers around Clay (Clay Tatum), a bit of a wayward soul to put lightly, or a swindling laze-about loser to put more honesty. His girlfriend (one of the best parts of the movie and cute as a button, played by Whitney Weir) tells him to try to get back into work as a photographer before she leaves on a trip.
However, Clay gets strange inspiration when an old, distant friend resurfaces in his life (Whitmer Thomas, also the co-writer). As the two become entangled, reality starts to blur as much as their relationship (platonically, mind you). Soon Clay finds out a harsh new truth about his old friend that will test every part of his character. Smallest of small spoiler alerts. He’s a terrible person.
So, I’ll be upfront, I do enjoy slightly absurd horror-comedy. I get flack for actually liking The Greasy Strangler, but I also enjoy Three Busy Debras and Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, etc. THE CIVIL DEAD sometimes veers into absurdist comedy which was stellar, and the two leads do have terrific chemistry together.
But I think it goes back to a bit about what I said in…oh, what was it called? Oh yeah, It Cuts Deep. The commitment-phobe man-baby character is a trope that needs to end. It’s tired and, as stated, Clay (the character, not the director) is a terrible person. While I could buy Clay as an unreliable narrator, the parting shots are extremely dark for a comedy or even drama. In the end, it just makes it a bummer nihilistic movie.
Technically, THE CIVIL DEAD is a sound film, but the spirit is lacking. There’s really only one scene that elevated THE CIVIL DEAD, and it comes from buddy Whit carrying the emotional load. The acting is great, the music is lovely and the cinematography is stunning, but it’s missing heart. This aspect can absolutely be done in indie supernatural comedies, as shown in movies like Mister Limbo.
Bottom line: If you like indie slacker horror comedies, then you’ll like this. It’ll probably deliver what you’re expecting and a touch more, but let’s look into new tropes soon.
THE CIVIL DEAD is in theaters on February 3, 2023.
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