The Deagol Brothers are evil geniuses. A group of friends, with essentially no money (and what money they had raised by performing benefit concerts featuring the film's fabulous soundtrack) managed to make a zombie movie which is also a coming of age story which is also a tale of unrequited love and obsession. That ambitious and astounding film is Make-out With Violence.
The film revolves around the summer after high school graduation for a tight knit group of friends, who are dealing with the disappearance of the enigmatic and widely loved Wendy (Shellie Marie Shartzer). A fairly large cast of characters is involved, but the focus is mostly on twin brothers Patrick and Carol (Eric Lehning and Cody DeVos respectively), their younger brother Beetle (Brett Miller) and Wendy's friend Addy (Leah High) and her friend Anne Harran (Tia Shearer).
On the way home from the memorial service (which had to make do with an empty casket) Carol and Beetle stop to catch cicadas in a field, and perhaps to do a little melancholy reflecting. Instead of cicadas, Beetle finds Wendy tied to a tree. She's not alive. But she's not completely dead either. The boys decide that they have to take her home, and figure out what to do with her. For reasons not entirely explained, perhaps nostalgia or, in Patrick's case, a lingering unrequited love for Wendy, they end up taking her to their friend Rody's house, which they are watching while he is out of town. The next several months are spent tending to the undead girl, figuring out what she likes to eat (live rats for one), washing her, and cleaning up her messes along with all the other things that high school kids do with their free time.
Patrick becomes more and more obsessed with Wendy, even arranging a candle lit dinner for her birthday, even as his brother Carol works hard to gain the romantic interest of Addy. Addy herself is interested in Wendy's boyfriend, while Anne Harran pines after Carol. It's a tasty broth of doomed love all around. Life goes on, but this dream like summer has to end eventually, and it does, with serious dramatic impact.
The tale is told with lots of flashbacks, aided by Beetle's narration, and reminds the viewer of nothing so much as a pleasantly remembered dream or idealized childhood, notwithstanding the grisliness of much of the subject matter. The Deagol's ability to seamlessly combine real tension and dread (not to mention a fair bit of gore) with tenderness and an almost hagiographic evocation of high school summers is astounding. This is polished, professional filmmaking. The performances are spot on, even as they are highly stylized. This isn't real life, but rather a dream like vision of what life should be like, and thus full on realistic performances are not appropriate. False notes are nonexistent here. Make-out With Violence is very much an ensemble piece, but Leah High, Cody DeVos, Eric Lehning and Tia Shearer give particularly fine, nuanced performances. That a film could look this good, and be so finely crafted, with no budget to speak of, and many people working entirely for free, is a testament to the dedication and talent of those involved. Very, very highly recommended.
The video is in 1.78:1 widescreen, and generally looks good. There is the occasional graininess and posterization, but considering the low budget, it is impressive. The colors are bright and warm, evoking the comforting feeling of the summer in which the film is set.
The sound is in Dolby digital 2 channel, but does its job admirably nonetheless. The dialogue is always clearly audible, and the film's impressive soundtrack is well presented. English subtitles are included, but no alternate language track.
There are a number of worthwhile extras included. They are:
"The Fugitive Brain" Behind the Scenes
This thirty four minute featurette has interviews with many of the cast and crew (including the zombie choreographer), reflecting on the process of making a very low budget film and offering interesting anecdotes. Everyone is surprisingly candid, openly airing frictions and relating problems and criticisms. Very interesting.
Several performances, both live and as music videos, of songs from the film, by The Non Commissioned Officers (made up of the Lehning brothers and others) and The Glib, a local Nashville band. Entertaining.
There are thirty minutes of deleted scenes, each with an intro by a cast member to put it into perspective. Most were cut because they didn't work or had the wrong tone, but are interesting to see in this context.
The producers of the film commissioned a couple of songs from the band How I Became the Bomb, but after some legal disputes didn't use them in the film. They are included here.
"My Saturday is Now Ruined"
An audio interview with Ed O'Brien, who designed the film poster for free, about the trials and tribulations and enormous amount of work he committed himself to for his friends.
Six humorous radio spots advertising the film, and the fund raising concerts.
Commentary Featuring the Directors' Younger Brothers: Zach Duensing and Kevin Doyle
Zach Duensing and Kevin Doyle are the younger brothers of directors Andy Duensing and Chris Doyle, otherwise known as the Deagol Brothers, and they provide the commentary. Zach and Kevin were both heavily involved in the production, which they describe as very much a friends and family affair. Lots of stories about the five year ordeal of making the film, how many events were taken from the real lives of the filmmakers, location problems, and the many buildings they shot in that are now destroyed by tornadoes, or developed into Walmarts and subdivisions. Interesting and sporadically very funny.
Make-out With Violence is an astonishingly impressive independent film, made over five years with mostly family and friends. The Deagol Brothers have made a unique and engaging film that is almost impossible to classify, but is satisfying regardless. It has a skewed perspective on life that is quite refreshing after the dreck that makes up much of traditional Hollywood fare. If the phrase "sleaze comfort" does not rapidly enter the American lexicon, this reviewer will be quite disappointed. Go buy this movie.