The Dead Inside (USA, 2011)
Travis Betz is gradually defining a new sub-genre of poignant romantic horror musicals. His previous feature, Lo, did wonders with a simple theatrical set and a handful of performers, telling us a heart-breaking story of a young man who summons a demon to track down his lost love. With The Dead Inside, Betz both expands and contracts his scope.
Most of the film takes place inside the various rooms of a flat belonging to a couple named Fi and Wes. Wes is a photographer whose regular work on weddings is sapping his love of his art; Fi is a writer who had hit a block with the latest novel of her zombie series, The Dead Inside. We are occasionally taken inside the narrative of the book, with the actors who portray Wes and Fi taking on the roles of Fi’s zombie protagonists. These scenes are amongst the funniest in the film, as the zombies have a gormless and cheerful charm, bickering as they try to find a way into a barricaded room which holds their next potential human meal.
The mundane problems of work and ennui facing Fi and Wes are overshadowed when a ghost enters their life and starts fighting Fi for possession of her body. Wes is faced with trying to first understand and then cope with how this changes Fi and their relationship. These problems are echoed within the troubled narrative of Fi’s novel. As the situation escalates, The Dead Inside moves firmly into horror territory.
Considering the limited sets, budget and cast on show, The Dead Inside never becomes dull or predictable, and is beautifully shot. The strong emotional relationship between the protagonists makes their trials all the more poignant, and the mood shifts markedly with humour, horror and musical numbers. This is the richest combination of warmth, loveable characters, horror and tragedy I have encountered outside a Jonathan Carroll novel.
There is no escaping the fact that The Dead Inside is a musical, and this may be enough to put off many potential viewers. The musical numbers are limited, and the songs are generally catchy. Moreover, they add wonderfully to the already strange tone of the film, and show us aspects of the characters’ inner lives that may otherwise have stayed hidden.
The Dead Inside is my favourite film of the month so far, and it is going to be very difficult for anything to top it. I recommend it if you want to see a film with heart, even if that heart is wriggling with maggots.