She Never Died
Lacey, a socially detached loner is cursed with immortality and a never-ending tedium of existence. In her attempts to keep her compulsions in check, she seeks out the darkest souls humanity has to offer. Lacey must now face her own inner demons while simultaneously finding her next meal.
She Never Died – the pseudo-sequel to 2015’s He Never Died (check out my full 4-star review here) – held its US premiere at the 19th annual Screamfest in Los Angeles.
Lacey (Olunike Adeliyi) is a homeless loner in an unnamed big city. She’s almost super-human, and seemingly on the hunt for criminal ne’er-do-wells. There’s also a seasoned police detective named Godfrey (Peter MacNeill) searching for a human trafficking ring, headed by brother/sister team, Terrance (Noah Danby) and Meredith (Michelle Nolden). Add into the mix one of Terrance and Meredith’s potential victims, Suzzie (Kiana Madeira) and how all of these factions come together, and you’ve got She Never Died.
Look, right off the bat, I’ve gotta tout the jaw-dropping work from lead actress Adeliyi. She’s a damned acting treasure. With only about 100 words uttered by her character (just a random estimate) through the entire film, it’s still a truly engaging performance. When she does speak, there’s a wonderfully deadpan quality, perfectly illustrating the character’s “I’ve had it” attitude. And when rage is needed, Adeliyi brings a Michonne of The Walking Dead intensity – and ups the anger ante by 100%. And with all due respect to Michonne – Lacey doesn’t need a Katana sword to kick ass.
On a side note, Screamfest has a Best Actress category, and while I’ve still six days of films to screen, I would bet that Adeliyi has a leg up on the competition. Why, even the artwork for this year’s program has an illustrated version of Lacey on it’s cover (artwork by Logan Van Der Wolf). If that doesn’t just scream “ultimate bad-assery and everyone knows it”, nothing will.
As Godfrey, MacNeill has the “I’m getting to old for this s***” outlook you’d expect from this (could have been cliché) grizzled old man on the force. But so many sequences – particularly his conversation with Meredith – give the character so much extra oomph, including humor, which MacNeill perfectly navigates. Quite simply, you’ll love Godfrey.
As Suzzie, Madeira is the comic relief. And she never overdoes it within her layered performance. There’s intense sympathy for Suzzie, because the script and indeed Madeira’s acting work, make your heart ache for this damaged character. One need only examine the “rehearsal in the bathroom” sequence, and the subsequent (and heartbreaking) payoff – to see the breadth of Madeira’s acting gifts, and innate comic abilities.
And as the two villains (a unique family affair), Nolden and Danby shine. These characters are the definition of “love to hate”, and these two actors exude an alluring, no-nonsense “it’s just business” attitude.
I also want to call out the supporting performance from Katie Messina as Janice. Nothing specific to say, other than I adored this character and I adored this performance. A highlight in a sea of terrific acting work.
The film’s pacing, editing – and let’s just say it – pretty much every other technical puzzle piece you can think of – are near flawless. I say near, because I’m sure there’s some little chunk that might have been lacking, but I just didn’t see it. And this has always been the test of a truly great film. Upon subsequent viewings, one might find short-comings, but if – on your initial screening – you’re so wrapped up in the characters, the story, the artistry, that any potential missteps will be ignored, or perhaps unseen — says it all!
There’s also plenty of make-up and gore effects, and they’re all pulled off with finesse, creativity and mostly – plenty of gross-out realism. It’s been my contention in review after review – that all of the details of any film, should rarely call attention to themselves (by being either super-good or super-bad). They should all just flow with the overall journey of the film. And while expertly done, the effects just further the lives of the characters on-screen. They’re just there, doing their job. And that is one of the best compliments you can give any film. Right?
One of the things which most impressed me, was the character development and the dialogue. I’m a screenwriter and I was enamored with the care taken to flesh out every single character, regardless of size. Lacey’s fellow “hobo” and right-hand man Joe (Bill MacDonald) – with but a few moments of screen-time, was immensely fun and memorable. The relationship between Meredith and Terrance was fascinating and sometimes titillating (if you’re into that sort of thing). Even the diner owner had an attitude and left a lasting impression.
There was an episode of last season’s The Affair (on Showtime), where three characters related via the story, but generally not engaging in much one-on-one time throughout the series – come together. The banter and chemistry between these three characters, had me saying, “I want a show all about these three personalities”.
And that’s the exact same sentiment I expressed when Lacey, Godfrey and Suzzie were together. I simply adored their dynamic (Godfrey with Lacey, Suzzie with Lacey) and when they finally all come together, it’s magical. I loved these characters separately, but when the writing gods bring them into one scene, the chemistry is perfect. Add into this a sparkling (and dark) sense of humor, perfectly executed by these fine actors – and it’s spot-on.
I found it interesting, that one of my issues with the original film, was simply not a problem with the sequel – the more religious undertones and revelations (pardon the pun). Perhaps it has to do with how it was offered up differently in each story. Bottom line – these touches did not distract in the sequel.
I was able to briefly chat with executive producer/director Audrey Cummings and star Olunike Adeliyi at Screamfest’s opening night. And I asked if there was a third episode in the planning stages, bringing Rollins’ Jack and this film’s Lacey together for a completion to a potential trilogy (I’m pitching the title, They Never Died). Adeliyi hinted that this might be a possibility.
She Never Died was written by the writer/director of He Never Died, Jason Krawczyk.
If you’ve been reading my reviews for a good long while, you’ll know that I don’t easily come out of a film – ready, willing and able to hand off a review with a perfect, 5-star score. But here I am, about to do so.
She Never Died is ultimately satisfying from start to finish. It’s exciting, fast-paced, emotionally resonant (yes, I got teary-eyed over a moment toward the film’s end) and jam-packed with lovely characters and fantastic performances – particularly from Adeliyi in what will be looked at (50 years from now, after a long acting life) as a career highlight.
She Never Died is still playing the festival circuit, so do yourself a favor – educate yourself with a screening of the prequel, then find a showing of the sequel in your neighborhood. Cummings told me on the carpet, that the film has been picked up by XYZ for distribution.