A young couple move into their dream house, only to find out they are not alone.
January 20, 2017
Bruce W. Durbin (screenplay), Suneel Tripuraneni (story)
Kelsey Deanne as Anne Harris
Chase Austin as Harold Harris
Yeesh, Dead Story is generic. Newlyweds move into a haunted house with a history of murder. Yawn. An eighty-minute movie can feel awfully long sometimes. When Dead Story isn’t boring you with predictable scares, it’s boring you with uninteresting dialogue. The lighting and shot compositions are passable, but the editing has no concept of tension, or momentum for that matter. Almost every scene feels like everyone involved put in the least amount of effort to get the job done. The devil is always in the details, and Dead Story simply has none.
Harold and Anne Harris, (Chase Austin and a very bored Kelsey Deanne), have everything going for them. They’re young, affluent, and they’ve just moved out to the country. All is peaceful there, and quiet. Too quiet. And clichéd. Far too clichéd. Anne is haunted by a female ghost, who looks exactly like Samara from The Ring (cliché). Mysterious things start happening, like car engines dying (cliché). At some point, a frustrated Anne blurts out: “This is my house!” (cliché). And good-old Harold thinks Anne is just some hysterical woman, (an utterly byzantine cliché). Have you watched any haunted house movie…ever? Yeah, it’s kind of like that.
Kelsey Deanne as Anne looks like she doesn’t want to be in the movie, but her agent told her a horror gig would sweeten her acting reel. You know, it takes commitment to be a memorable scream queen. Deanne clearly could care less. Not that the writing does her any favors. Screenwriter Bruce Durbin and director Suneel Tripuraneni seem more concerned with getting her into sexually suggestive positions, rather than developing any actual character. It’s tedious watching her prop-up her husband Harold, whose entire personality feels like it was generated from protagonist scattergories.
The hook of a story like this should be the characters, their marital relationship, how it will be tested. So you’re film should be populated with relatable, three-dimensional people, not vanilla cyphers. The problem is that Anne and Harold are so obvious, so cookie-cutter, that we are incapable of investing in them. I’m not an advocate for overly quirky characterization, but give me something more than mannequins in store windows.
Anne is blindly supportive of Harold, until she’s not. At which point her character’s mood swings are so wildly disproportionate, it’s almost as if the hack script was trying to manufacture conflict. When Harold shows concern for his mother, who just went to the hospital, Anne cattily retorts: “Yeah, she was in the hospital because she got an infection from her last Botox injection.” Such subtly. You get it, folks? Anne really doesn’t like her mother-in-law.
Let’s talk about the mother-in-law for a moment. She’s played by Sheril Rodgers. This is one of the worst performances I have ever seen. We are talking Troll 2 territory here. Rodgers can’t utter a single line believably. Her feelings towards her daughter-in-law are baffling at best, mostly incomprehensible. She harbors an almost pathological hatred for Anne, and I can’t tell you why. Bad “villain bingo”, I guess. If Harold had also acted antagonistic towards Anne, I could chalk it up to a dysfunctional family. But since actor Chase Austin can only play “vanilla”, I’m left with a weird cognitive dissonance. Is Harold really so dumb, he can’t see mommy’s resentment when it’s being telegraphed right in front of him? Basically, Dead Story doesn’t make any sense.
The film was shot on the Red Dragon 6K. The resolution is certainly there, and the images are clean. I have to sing the praises of this camera, and it’s ability to reduce moiré and unwanted artifacts. Why go off on that tangent? Because a swanky piece of tech shouldn’t compensate for poor cinematography. The Dragon is nice, but it’s used unimaginatively in Dead Story. Cinematographer Jose Zambrano Cassella gives us nothing but flat, wide shots and peculiar lighting decisions. The movie must’ve also lacked a focus puller. Certain moments go fuzzy inexplicably. I understand the limits of low budget cinema, but that should mean less laziness.
Most of the scenes don’t know how to creatively transition either. Rather than try anything interesting, director Tripuraneni constantly employs “fade out and fade in”, as if Dead Story was an NBC movie of the week. But the crème de la crème of laziness happens near the end. It literally made me laugh a mocking, mirthless laugh. After being attacked by the ghost in the nearby woods, Anne is brought back to the house by two helpful rednecks. One redneck points to the other and refers to him as his “son”. They’re the same age. The…same…age. For the love of god, even the Casting Director didn’t care.
Dead Story is currently available on VOD and DVD, but using your money on a colonoscopy is probably a wiser decision. This schlock is too lazy to even be “so bad it’s good”.