Written and directed by Gareth Maxwell Roberts, The Mortician may look like a horror movie based on the packaging and marketing materials behind its release but putting it into that genre is definitely stretching it. This is more of an urban drama, with some creepy ideas and moments thrown in to keep things interesting - and for the most part, it works.
Founding member of The Wu-Tang Clan Method Man plays the titular mortician (we never learn his name), an awkward and antisocial man who goes to work on time each morning and takes care of a seemingly endless supply of corpses. When he's not at work, he's either trying to ignore the constant domestic disputes that go on in the apartment building he calls home or he's spending some time with a kindly prostitute named Ava (Dana Fuchs). The neighborhood he works in, a tough town outside of a post Katrina New Orleans, looks more like a wasteland than a proper town and it's not surprising to see that it's literally infested with gangsters. The worst of these hoods is Carver (Dash Mihok), a sadistic man who makes a point of bothering our protagonist at every possible opportunity and who makes no qualms about letting him know that he's basically keeping him in business.
Things take an interesting shift for our lead when, as part of his probation, an ex-con named Noah (EJ Bonilla) winds up doing some community service working in the morgue as a porter. After his arrival, Carver starts pressuring the mortician about the whereabouts of a young boy named Kane (Cruz Santiago), a boy that Noah seems to have some attachment to - but nobody is talking and the mortician opts to keep his mouth shut. Soon enough, the lives of the central characters all start to collide when a woman they all have a connection to turns up on the slab, all of which cause the mortician himself to come to terms with his own past.
Let's get this out of the way first - The Mortician is not a perfect movie. It stretches out its story a little longer than it needs to, it short changes a few personalities in the character development department and it plays to predictable clichés in its last half hour or so. With that said, however, the film gets more right than wrong and the first aspect of what makes it worth watching is the Louisiana locations. The area that the movie was shot in suffers from such advanced urban decay that a lot of us won't be able to imagine what it must be like to live there and yet people do, at this very moment, still reside in areas like this. This location shooting really goes a long way towards giving the movie the atmosphere and sense of danger that certain scenes require from it, and the picture is just all the better for it.
From there, it's worth talking about the performances. Method Man might seem an odd choice for the lead, but this is an odd movie so he actually works quite well in the role. Those accustomed to seeing him in stoner comedy types roles might be taken aback by how well he does 'quirky' in this movie. He's completely cast against type here, playing his character as introverted and downright meek at times, using body language to communicate more so than dialogue (his character doesn't speak very much, nor does he need to). The rest of the cast are decent as well, with fellow musician Dana Fuchs and Method Man sharing an interesting chemistry on screen and with both Santiago and Bonilla portraying some understandable angst rather believably as well.
Ultimately the film winds up an interesting mix of the macabre and the truly touching as the characters change and rise above their situations together. It might sound corny, and on paper it is, but it's handled well here where there's enough sincerity to pull it all together.
The Mortician gets a pretty solid looking anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD From Lionsgate. Colors are reproduced with good accuracy and detail is strong as well (though you can't help but with you were seeing it in high definition when the camera pulls us through all those nifty looking abandoned buildings). Black levels are good but not perfect, sometimes looking more like dark grey but for a shot on DV production with a modest budget, the movie looks fine.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track on this disc is pretty solid, using the rear channels not just to spread out the score, which it does well, but also to provide some decent ambient and background noise when called for. A few decent front to back pans will surprise you and while it's not always an overly aggressive track, when the action kicks in you'll notice. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
Aside from a trailer for the feature and trailers for a few unrelated Lionsgate properties, the only extra on the disc is a fifteen minute behind the scenes documentary that includes interviews with the cast and crew who discuss the intent to shoot and exhibit this movie in 3-D, funding problems that they ran into and what it was like shooting on location in New Orleans. It's got enough substance to it that it's worth checking out.
The Mortician is definitely not the horror movie that the packaging and marketing materials make it out to be, despite the presence of some eerie elements scattered throughout the film. Instead, what we wind up with is a weird, albeit interesting, character study mixed with some gritty urban drama. The film isn't perfect and the story is a bit too predictable but it's just strange and quirky enough to make it worth a watch if the plot sounds like your kind of story. If the disc is a bit light on extras, at least it looks and sounds decent enough - recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.