Canadian horror is fast becoming the safest bet around, thanks to the likes of Wolfcop and Curtain, just two standout offerings from the Great White North that more than showcase what the region can do. Dead Shack, similarly to other take-notice 2017 horror movies (particularly those hailing from Canada), has a hell of a poster to market it; neon colours, a bunch of characters we instantly want to know more about, a whole barrage of weapons…
The setup is ruthlessly simple: a family (son, daughter and father) shack up in the classic cabin in the woods with the dad’s partner (a wine-drinking harpy who refuses to take her sunglasses off on the drive up) and son’s best bud. The group could be divided up simply as Canadian Evan Peters (the friend), Canadian Jonah Hill (the son) and…the others. The women, in particular, are given short shrift but this is probably intentional (everyone is expendable, etc).
Early on, it’s noted that the cabin in the woods scenario is far worse and “relatively dangerous” in the Canadian wilderness than down south, where these things usually take place. Whether that’s factually accurate is irrelevant. Point is, the kids stumble upon the house of the title (glimpsed during the cold open) and its inhabitant, a woman in a defensive suit with a secret that the audience already knows and nothing left to lose.
The Dad character, Roger, played by bit-parter Donavon Stinson is easily the film’s MVP, stealing every scene he’s in and gifted most of the best lines. The joke is kind of one note (Roger is a bit of a dope who can’t really hold his drink) but he keeps the thing afloat when the darker elements seep in — if anything, the movie could’ve used more of him — and it’s here, unfortunately, where Dead Shack falls down.
It’s spoiling nothing (since it’s revealed in the opening sequence) to say the zombie element is the movie’s weakest part. Not only should it have been kept a mystery for longer, it doesn’t bring nearly as much scare appeal as the idea of Lauren Holly’s unnamed neighbour being, say, a cannibal or something. Although she is wickedly self-assured, telling the kids “they’ll never suspect me, they’re all sexist” there isn’t a whole lot else to her character.
The shack itself does introduce little kid zoms, though, which are always welcome (we would have also accepted baby zoms), but aside from that there’s not much here that the most casual horror fan, or even Walking Dead viewer, won’t have seen before. And the slant doesn’t make anything scarier or more intense for the central characters either, so there’s nothing to invest us in their plight aside from the usual hoping they escape unscathed.
Still, I wouldn’t discount Dead Shack for failing as a horror movie. Sure, the zombie thing is totally played out, but virtually every other element of the story works. The kids are great, the setting is ideal and super-pretty, and the dopey Dad alone is worth sitting down for 90 minutes to watch this (I want to re-watch just so I can accurately quote his many brilliantly idiotic moments). More comedy than horror, but entertaining enough it doesn’t really matter.
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Director(s): Peter Ricq
Writer(s): Peter Ricq, Phil Ivanusic, Davila Le Blanc
Stars: Cameron Andres, Lizzie Boys, Lauren Holly, Donavon Stinson
Studio/ Production Co: Goodbye Productions
Length: 85 minutes