As any semi-regular reader knows, I’m a sucker for zombie movies. Whether it’s the quick-moving cannibals of Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake or the shambling ghouls of Papa Bear’s …of the Dead series, there’s something about reanimated corpses with the single-minded purpose of feeding that gets me right in the reptile brain. I only state that as preamble to explain why I was watching the film Dead Season in the first place. By all accounts, this should be little more than a Romero-inspired trek through the zompocalypse with a plucky band of heroes fighting with one another while fending of the hordes of the undead. Fortunately, Dead Season has a bit more up its sleeve than that. Unfortunately, it’s not wholly successful in the execution.
Elvis (Scott Peat) is a survivor with a plan. Having contacted Tweeter (Marissa Merrill) by radio, the two meet up with a young boy in tow, travelling to a boat dock where they are outfitted with a boat and given a map to a presumably living dead-free island. Upon arrival, they are found by a militaristic group and taken to the leader, Kurt Conrad (James C. Burns) and assessed for their talents. The island has a pretty strict rule, you see, regarding the mouths it feeds. If you can’t contribute… well, that unpleasantness can be discussed later. Fortunately for the pair, Elvis was an EMT in his former life and Tweeter proves to be as handy with a weapon as the zombie-killin’ men on the island. Which, it turns out, is another quickly debunked myth of the island. Zombies wash up occasionally and must be dealt with tout suite.
Tweeter is given another task – help Conrad’s daughter, Rachel (Corsica Wilson), find a little sunshine in Armageddon after being cooped up in the same room for the better part of a year. Eventually, Rachel reveals a greater plan – to escape the island by way of the Conrad family boat. Elvis, too, has some issues to sort through when Conrad the Elder comes knocking following the latest water-borne arrivals. It seems that the new folk don’t have as much to offer as do Tweeter and Elvis, so they are quarantined and kept isolated. Conrad leads Elvis to their makeshift prison where he learns the dark secret of Conrad’s survival. Those who are not of use to the group get gutted, fileted and jerky-ed, and it’s time for Elvis to pony up and kick in.
Dead Season credits three writers - director Adam Deyoe, Joshua Klausner and Loren Semmens – but only Deyoe has previous production credits. That speaks volumes, as the big issue with Dead Season isn’t its premise, which is an interesting expansion of the ‘escape to an island’ trope used in much zombie fiction, but rather the often ham-fisted way in which the ideas are executed. Obviously low-budget, the film fails to feel grandly apocalyptic, relying instead on emotional beats that come off only about half the time. The make-up is so-so, the editing somewhat jarring, the performances average or worse, with the exception of nice moments found by Peat.
So, what is it about the movie that’s worth a look? Not much, if you’re not a zombie nut to begin with. If you enjoy those daydreams of the world turned mad and the dead walking, and spend far too much time playing out the survival scenarios, this may be worth a look. The notion of what people will do to survive, and the toll on their humanity as these decisions weigh upon them, is fine, but the film’s ambition exceeded its grasp more often than not. It’s head and rotting shoulders better than most of the cookie-cutter zombie fare out there, but it fails to stand on its own as a solid horror film.