Often amusing and not without its charms, Dead is nevertheless too slight and underdeveloped to make good on its excellent central concept.
Dane Marbec (co-writer Thomas Sainsbury) is a good-natured stoner, known to his friends affectionately as ‘Marbles'. He lives an ostensibly ordinary life if it weren't for the fact that he can talk to ghosts through the use of a cocktail of drugs that he discovered through experimentation with neurological medication. As such, he uses his power to become a medium, intending to help both the recently bereaved and the dead themselves move on by connecting them one final time, often doing so without recompense. On one occasion, he runs into a deceased police officer named Jason Tagg (co-writer and director Hayden J. Weal) who attempts to get Marbles involved in finding out who exactly killed not only him but multiple other men in the area, asking him to deliver a piece of evidence to his foster sister Yana (Tomai Ihaia). After reluctantly agreeing to help out, Marbles and Officer Tagg go on an adventure that threatens to become much more than Marbles ever bargained for.
Thomas Sainsbury is excellent in the lead role and his chemistry with Weal is highly entertaining to watch; easily the best thing about the film. The pair worked together on the film's script, and it's at its strongest when they are interacting on screen. A lot of the film's humour comes from their bickering, which works so effectively as their characters are so different from each other. Sainsbury imbues Marbles with humanity and a genuine sense of simmering fear as he gets a lot more involved in the whole mystery than he ever wanted to be, while Weal brings a sense of bravado and determination to Officer Tagg, whose zeal to solve the case in spite of his death is in direct contract to Marbles' terrified bewilderment. The brilliant thing about Marbles is that aside from harbouring the key, central power of the film, he is bereft of almost any other skills and has to be coached through every moment by his much more confident ghostly friend, which in turn provides a lot of opportunity for some very well scripted interactions between the two as they bicker and bother each other towards a growing camaraderie. The other character to truly resonate and add an extra level to the chemistry is Tagg's foster sister Yana, who Tomai Ihaia plays assuredly, bringing another layer of wit to the equation. Sadly though, she isn't given enough to do, which leads to the film's major failing.
The problem is that the film falls apart somewhat around its characters. What starts as an intriguing and engaging paranormal-inflected mystery story loses conviction in the second half of the film, and by the end, it feels like it's fallen flat, its narrative too thin and insubstantial to last the distance. That isn't to say there still isn't some joy to be found in individual interactions between characters, which are still as well scripted as ever, simply that the narrative fails to quite match up to that quality and thus results in a film that is less than the sum of its parts, one that earns its laughs but not any sense of satisfaction with its central mystery plot. This unfortunately means that for all its humour and promise, it doesn't quite hang together as anything more than passably diverting, when it could have been much more.
Dir: Hayden J. Weal
Scr: Hayden J. Weal and Thomas Sainsbury
Cast: Thomas Sainsbury, Hayden J. Weal, Tomai Ihaia, Emily Campbell, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Kayne Peters
Prd: Hayden J. Weal, Nicole van Heerden, Rob Malloch
DOP: Tammy Williams
Music: Tom McLeod, William Philipson, Tom Pierard, Jimmy Urine
Country: New Zealand
Run time: 90 minutes
Dead is available now on-demand