From the little I knew about this film, the description from the back of the DVD, it sounded like Candyman warmed over for the 00’s. A group of young adults spend a weekend in a cabin, then on a dare play Dead Mary, saying her name five times into the mirror, then she shows up and kills everybody. A pretty basic horror plot-line, that sounded so typical that I skipped renting it and only decided to check it out when I noticed it on one of the movie channels. I’m glad I did, because while not a great horror film, it turned out to be far more ambitious than previously advertised.
The film starts with a nicely put together quiet scene; a young girl, played by Dominique Swain, sits idly in a car, fiddling around with the knobs, simply having a moment to herself. Rare is the horror film that begins without a bang, i.e. somebody getting killed, especially for something that went straight-to-DVD, they usually sell themselves to the lowest common denominator. I began to suspect that there might be something more to this film, my suspicions were confirmed when they spent the next half an hour setting up the characters. They all talk like old friends, gossiping about each others relationships, truly enjoying one another’s company. Again, rare is the modern horror film, that spends some time getting to know the characters. The acting is a little weak here, the dialogue a little too The Hills, but they give it a good try and you do end up caring more about these characters than most horror films.
At the turn of the first act they play the Dead Mary game, which of course leads to their comfy scene being destroyed. But the way it happens is quite surprising. Instead of some supernatural, ghastly looking woman appearing and chopping everyone up (The DVD cover is only some overzealous artists conception); it starts with a mystery. The guy we were lead to believe was the hero of the film, goes into the woods following a sound; a horror cliché true, but it has to start somewhere; something attacks him, a minute later one of the girls comes screaming into the house, she’s seen him killed, and she claims it was done by one of the other girls. The girl doing the blaming is the only girl not well known to the group, a new girlfriend, but something strange happened when the blamed girl played the last game of Dead Mary. Immediately things get strained among the group and nobody knows who to trust.
The situation gets even weirder when they go out to find the guy’s corpse, at first they think he’s been mauled by a bear, because his body has been so destroyed. What happens next is worse, he suddenly springs back to life, spewing all kinds of profanities towards everyone standing around him, and his body seems to be regenerating itself. The guy’s ex-girlfriend immediately bashes his head in with a shovel, a little harsh considering they’re still figuring out what’s going on, but it proves to be the right call. I don’t want to go into details, the film deserves to have a little mystery about it. Let me just say that the film is much more Evil Dead than Candyman. Things continue to get worse, each character turning on their best friend, no one can be trusted; and they’re forced to do horrible things to stay alive. And to make things more interesting, it seems that the epidemic isn't isolated to their neck of the woods.
If the film had done a few things differently, it might have been a really wonderful horror film. I like being left with a mystery, but they left it a shade to vague; a few tiny morsels more information on what was going on, a taste of what’s happening beyond the cabin, a few more clues to the characters motivations and it could have been something special. Maybe I need to go back and watch it again, it seems like one of those films, that’ll open itself up more on a second viewing. But as it is, Dead Mary is a far more interesting and well made, than most of the horror films you’ll find on the shelves at Blockbuster; it reaches far beyond it’s straight-to-DVD status to be something worth remembering. Director Robert Wilson may just knock his next film out of the park.