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SXSW Film Review: ‘Deathgasm’

Suburban metal heads awaken a demonic force in this gory New Zealand comedy.

Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman, Sam Berkley, Daniel Cresswell, Stephen Ure, Jodie Rimmer, Colin Moy, Nick Hoskins-Smith, Aaron McGregor, Andrew Liang, Tim Foley, Delaney Tabron, Cameron Rhodes, Erroll Shand, Kate Elliott, Campbell Rouselle.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3705412/

If the title appeals, then you’re probably going to be tolerably amused by “Deathgasm,” which combines heavy metal, gore-horror and comedy into an inevitably rude, bloody mess. Still, this amiably dumb feature debut for New Zealand writer-director Jason Lei Howden could have used some additional polish on the scripting side to bump its bad-taste humor up from the routinely to the inspirationally silly. Offshore, the pic is guaranteed a run on the fantasy fest circuit and niche home-format sales pickups in relevant territories.

When teenage Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) sees his widowed mom packed off to a mental institution, he’s sent to live with his nearest relatives. Unfortunately, Uncle Albert (Colin Moy) and Aunt Mary (Jodie Rimmer) are conservative evangelical Christians who take great umbrage at their long-haired, tat-sporting nephew’s fondness for the devil’s music. (Pic’s soundtrack is duly packed with cuts from from such savory acts as Skull Fist, Nunslaughter and Lair of the Minotaur.)

Worse, this upright family’s sole offspring, David (Nick Hoskins-Smith), is a jock jerk who promptly makes Brodie his latest target for bullying. On the plus side, our hero meets the coolest fellow metalhead in this otherwise bland town, Zedd (James Blake). Though Zedd is imperiously self-absorbed, he condescends to form a band with the newcomer and his fellow high-school misfits Dion (Sam Berkley) and Giles (Daniel Cresswell).

It’s Zedd’s idea that they break into a seemingly abandoned home that turns out to be the hiding place for cadaverous M.I.A. metal frontman Rikki Daggers (Stephen Ure), who is not happy to receive visitors. But he does them the favor of hustling them out with a keepsake just before he’s found and killed by an emissary from devil-cult leader Vadin (Tim Foley), who seeks the score pages to a Satanic mass that Brodie and Zakk now find themselves in possession of.

When the lads attempt to play it in their rehearsal garage, everyone within earshot turns into demons, which then run amok around town. It’s up to Brodie & Co. (joined by Kimberley Crossman as David’s cute, unhappy g.f., Medina) to try halting the massacre, an effort further complicated by the arrival of Vadin, his right-hand vixen (Delaney Tabron) and their minions.

There’s plenty of vivid splatstick here, including extensive bodily harm inflicted by sex toys. Too bad the energy and ingenuity expended on these f/x aren’t equaled by the script. Opportunities to satirize the metal universe (beyond brief, amusing bits of Frazetta-style gonzo warrior imagery) or anything else are rarely seized. The dialogue could be a lot sharper, and the narrative lurches rather gracelessly from one setpiece to another. It’s all too rare that the film comes up with an idea that’s funny beyond a basic “Eww, that’s gross” way; the demise of loathsome cousin David is one scarce instance of actual cleverness that briefly lifts the movie from Troma-level yuks to “Shaun of the Dead”-type drollery.

Nonetheless, the consistent if undiscriminating high energy engenders a certain persuasive goodwill. Performances are game, design and tech aspects above average on a modest budget, with some brief animations and miscellaneous metal-style graphics diversifying the visual texture.

SXSW Film Review: 'Deathgasm'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Midnighters), March 20, 2015. Running time: 86 MIN.

Production: (New Zealand) An Metalheads and Darksky Films presentation in association with New Zealand Film Commission, MPI Pictures and Timpson Films. (International sales: MPI, Chicago.) Produced by Andrew Beattie, Morgan Leigh Stewart, Sarah Wensley, Todd Wieneke. Executive producers, Ant Timpson, Greg Newman, Badie Ali, Hamza Ali.

Crew: Directed, written by Jason Lei Howden. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Simon Raby; editors, Jeff Hurrell, Gareth Van Niekerk; music, Dead Pirate; production designer/costume designer, Jane Bucknell; art director, Lisa Dunn; blood and gore technician, Tim Wells; sound, Dave Hurley; sound designer, Van Niekerk; re-recording mixer, Chris Sinclair stunt coordinator, Steve McQuillan; assistant director, Robyn Grace; second unit director, Aleksander Sakowski.

With: Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman, Sam Berkley, Daniel Cresswell, Stephen Ure, Jodie Rimmer, Colin Moy, Nick Hoskins-Smith, Aaron McGregor, Andrew Liang, Tim Foley, Delaney Tabron, Cameron Rhodes, Erroll Shand, Kate Elliott, Campbell Rouselle.

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