Oct 31, 2015
Day 31: DEAD WITHIN (2011)
If Dead Within were sitting here beside me, I'd be awfully tempted to give it a pat on the head, say "Good for you!", and hand it a ribbon that says YOU TRIED. Hmm, that came out a lot more condescendingly than I meant it to. The thing is, you see, that Dead Within admirably attempts to do something different with the ol' zombie genre, but there's a lot holding it back from making said attempt successful. That "a lot" includes the script (which likely includes a great deal of improvisation), a through line and ending telegraphed so early on that the dramatic stakes are dramatically lowered, and very dodgy acting. Toss in a low budget that limits the quality of the effects, a few too many static-y jump cuts, and it's surprising that Dead Within wasn't completely dead on arrival. But like I said, at least it tries an offbeat approach to the material–in that regard, my "good for you!" is indeed a wholehearted one.
Six months into an infectious plague, married couple Kim and Mike have barricaded themselves in a secluded cabin. Despite the danger, Mike ventures out in search of supplies almost daily while Kim stays behind, cleans the house, and indulges in fingerpainting the walls and teaching herself to play the guitar. They dress for dinner every night and occasionally have quiet sex. It's sort of a Bizarro World picture of domesticity, but is this semblance of normality sustainable? Will Mike be attacked by one of the homicidal infected and die or bring it home to his wife? Will Kim succumb to cabin fever and prove more dangerous than the monsters lurking outside?
You won't be questioning things for long, because the answer becomes obvious fairly early on. Rather than proving to be an unreliable narrator, Kim is reliably delusional. It's a small but important distinction that robs Dead Within of nearly all of its tension. Through flashbacks that show how Mike and Kim arrived at this point–and what it cost them–it's obvious that guilt, tension, and monotony have caused Kim to have a nervous breakdown. From here, the film stalls and at its conclusion an hour later, you'll likely shrug and say "Yeah, well, of course." But hey–at least Dead Within tried. What did you do today, huh?