Deconstructed zombie drama/puberty pic “Make-out With Violence” manages to feel head-scratchingly unique even as it recalls “Let the Right One In,” “River’s Edge,” “Deadgirl” and numerous other films. Directed by the pseudonymous Deagol Brothers, the film invests in spacey horror tropes one moment, plunges into absurdist adolescent angst the next and begs questions every step of the way, but just about holds together with its strong compositional sense, killer atmospheric lighting and wall-to-wall music track. Internet buzz may propel this polarizing item beyond its Aug. 27 bow at Gotham’s ReRun Gastropub Theater.
The plot proceeds fitfully, sometimes dropping characters and storylines en route. Pic was shot over a two-year period by Andy Duensing and ace d.p. Christopher Doyle, members of a Nashville film collective, as production personnel came and went. Intermittent narration by a young boy, Beetle (Brett Miller), grants the odd proceedings a unifying child’s p.o.v.
Beetle’s voiceover places his older teenage brothers, fraternal twins Patrick (Eric Lehning) and Carol (Cody DeVos), at the center of the action. They, like virtually everyone else in the film, are obsessed with Wendy (Shellie Marie Shartzer), a vivacious 17-year-old who disappeared months earlier. The discovery of her body, far from providing closure, sends the story careening into the realm of the undead.
Wendy’s corpse is first spotted near a river, jerkily rising and falling as if pushed from within, her marionette-like spasms brilliantly choreographed and executed in a postmortem revival witnessed only by a spooked German shepherd. Shortly thereafter, Beetle and his brothers happen upon Wendy, roped between two trees, and make off with her, attempting to resuscitate her by feeding her raw meat and live rats.
Wendy never qualifies as a typical screen zombie, as her boneless, lolling twitches and occasional levitations lack purposeful menace. She is simply not dead enough to let go of. Or so thinks Patrick, who harbors a deep crush on the hitherto unattainable beauty. He sinks deep into sado-romantic necrophilia, as solicitous when inserting needles under her nails as he is when carefully applying makeup for a candlelit birthday celebration (somewhat marred when Wendy flops onto the cake). In any case, Wendy’s corpse, lacking basic motor skills, refuses to respond to Patrick’s advances and leaves its mysteries unresolved (the livid bruises on her thighs strongly suggesting the sexual violence of the film’s title).
Meanwhile, in a fevered pubescent roundelay of unrequited passion, Carol chases Wendy’s best friend, Addy (Leah High), while shunning the advances of Addy’s friend Anne (Tia Shearer). Addy hotly pursues Wendy’s ex, Brian (Josh Duensing), but he still carries a torch for his dead steady.
The filmmakers shift gears jaggedly, eschewing smooth transitions and including much beautiful water imagery — the splashing vitality of a live Wendy (in flashback), the breathless summer stillness of the lake where she reanimates. Color lighting changes dramatically, amping up suspense as various characters approach Wendy’s living corpse, while the offbeat rhythms of the pic’s non-pro cast cranks up the film’s bizarre intensity.
Score is credited to cast member Jordan Lehning, songwriter and lead guitar for the Non-Commissioned Officers, a newly minted band composed of the film’s lead actors.