Make-Out with Violence

In episode one of the anime series Elfen Lied, a dangerous mutant escapes from a facility where she was being held, washes up on a beach, and is found by a young man and his cousin. The entire series revolves around their attempt to protect her from the malicious forces pursuing here. Of course, though, it all comes back to their initial decision to take her in the first place. Now, call me crazy, but if I saw a naked, unconscious girl on a beach, my first thought wouldn’t be to take her home to take care of her, but to call the police or someone else. You may be wondering what this has to do with Make-Out with Violence, but for those who’ve seen the film, I think you catch my drift; if you find a zombie version of a girl that was missing your first instinct should NOT be to take her home as a pet.

Nonetheless, that’s what the characters in Make-Out with Violence do. This was the first feature of the “Deagol Brothers,” which is actually a pseudonym for a group of high-school filmmaking friends that all contributed in different ways to the film. It stars Eric Lehning and Cody DeVos as the Darling twins, Patrick and Carol respectively, as well as their younger brother, Beetle (Brett Miller), and their summer that they spend after finding the not-quite dead body of a friend of theirs that had gone missing named Wendy (Shellie Marie Shartzer). Patrick had been in love with Wendy, while Carol was in love with her best friend, Addy (Leah High). After finding Wendy mysteriously tied up between two trees, they take her to the house of their friend, Rody (Jordan Lehning), who has left for the summer.

Basically, this film can be reduced to “a nostalgic, wistful, coming-of-age comedic drama… with a zombie.” Granted, no reductionism can encapsulate films in their entirety, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one. The films entire first act consists of a lengthy voiceover monologue from Beetle, introducing the characters and describing their situation. Typically, such monologues are either brief introductions or they’re sustained throughout the film, but here it’s much lengthier and more intrusive, and the filmmakers never really make an easy transition into the present tense. There’s always a recollective haze hanging over the film, someone reminiscent of Terence Malick’s usage of the voiceover technique, a slightly disembodied, disconnected wandering over events.

But the Malick connections begin and end there. If Make-Out captures that kind of evocation, it’s only on the most superficial of levels. Elsewhere, the film is drowning in its own juvenile amateurism.  The film’s soundtrack, for instance, contains just about every indie rock/indie movie cliché imaginable, including being pointlessly diverse, arbitrarily utilized, and just plain overused. The songs frequently cut in-and-out of scenes for no reasons, and while they certainly provide a mood and atmosphere, you begin to realize they’re the ONLY things adding that mood and atmosphere. Without the music, Make-Out would be downright talkative and dull with only brief hints of the visual, painterly beauty that Malick could conjure that was strong enough to speak for itself.

Perhaps the worst thing that can be said of the music is that it too often acts as a band-aid to cover over the film’s failings. The acting would be one failing. The cast is average, at best. It’s probably best to say that their status as amateurs is obvious. Eric Lehning and Leah High are the least awkward of the bunch, though Shartzer does make an outstanding zombie, with most of her movement coming courtesy of her collaboration with a dancer and choreographer. Her angular, creepy movements are certainly among the highlights in the film, and I can only lament that they really didn’t utilize them more. Really, for a film that features a zombie in its central premise, those involved really don’t develop the concept enough to warrant its bizarreness.

The writing and direction are both as sloppy and unprofessional as the acting. The biggest problem with the former is the lack of any real development. For the majority of the runtime, the film, its characters, tones, and themes seem as stagnant and dead as the zombie itself. The biggest problem with the direction is the lack of it. Considering the film was shot over three years on no budget, perhaps it would be too harsh for complaining about the lack of continuity; the movie was certainly a labor of love, but it’s a shame that the talent involved doesn’t seemed to have matched the effort. The biggest problems are to be found in the editing, which tries to patch up scenes and montages that just don’t work, and stitch them together in some coherent way that just highlights their lack of substance.

This isn’t to say that there’s nothing positive about the film. Really, this isn’t so much a bad film as it is a good film that’s dragged down to mediocrity by the lack of talent and professionalism from those involved. The good that exists mostly resides in the quirkiness of the premise itself and some of the interesting scenes and moments that are squeezed out of it. The downright normal sub-plot between Carol trying to become Addy’s girlfriend is cute and quite funny, almost as if it belongs to another movie, but it works in isolation. Elsewhere, the creepier moments of the film work best, such as when the brothers finally feed the Wendy zombie a rat, or when Patrick has dressed her up to attend her 18th Birthday party. But even these quality moments seem too disconnected from the whole to call them thoroughly successful.

In truth, it’s hard to really pinpoint the problems with the film because the flaws seem equally dispersed through all the spectrums. Part of me wants to give those involved a break. Any kids just out of high school who are willing to put three years of work into a single project during the summer, scraping together what little money they can to make it work should be applauded on some level, and the sheer originality of the plot elements deserves some respect as well. But, at some point, I think even those involved realized they were in over their heads. Listening to the commentary and watching the making of, the story behind the movie is actually more interesting than the movie itself.

Perhaps what struck me most about the “story behind the story” is that everyone agrees that by the end they were just sick of it and sick of each other. You can hear regret in both what’s said and what isn’t said, as if the cost of making it wasn’t worth the return. It’s almost as if the movie itself became the Wendy zombie, the central mass on which everyone involved revolved around and focused on. But the film itself stresses that obsessing over what’s dead and gone can’t possibly come to no good, and just like Patrick’s obsession with Wendy ultimately destroys him, it seems as if the obsession over the movie eventually destroyed the relationships of those involved.

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About Jonathan Henderson
I'm a dedicated aesthete that's been fascinated with the arts since I was in my early teens. At 13 I saw my first foreign film, which ignited my passion for world cinema. I also discovered the enormous world of music out there and fell in love with everything from death metal to classical. My love for literature has especially grown in recent years, and I've taken up writing (and working really hard at) poetry. But over the past 12 years I've probably taken to film criticism more than anything, and seeing Neon Genesis Evangelion reignited my love for the arts (especially film) and took it to an even higher level. Now I write film reviews for two sites, including this one and Cinelogue. I play poker professionally, and while the world of arts and poker don't seem to converge much, I have taken the deductive and inductive logic that poker requires and attempted to apply it to all the arts as well as my criticism in an attempt to get past the jellybean syndrome ("I like blue jellybeans, you don't, and that's all we can say.").

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