Director Jesse Thomas Cook’s new film Deadsight begins with Adam Seybold’s character Ben waking up in the back of an ambulance. His eyesight is almost completely gone, he seems to have been abandoned—and he has been handcuffed to the gurney. Ben finds an eyedropper of medicine in his shirt pocket. There are no other immediate signs of the paramedics that had cared for him.
After breaking the rail free from the gurney, Ben cautiously makes his way to the rear of the ambulance. A bloody hand smacks against the window. Ben opens the door, and through luck, instinct, and desperation fights off his attacker. The audience sees what Ben cannot— the ambulance was abandoned on the edge of a large cemetery.
Next we meet Mara (played by Liv Collins, who also co-wrote and produced). Mara appears to be quite far along in her pregnancy. She prepares for her day, and we see that she is a police officer. I was surprised to see someone so far along gearing up for a day on the beat, but I don’t know much about maternity leave…
Before long, Ben and Mara both discover that something terrible is happening. A mysterious disease is spreading across the land, turning its victims into rage-filled creatures with a hunger for human flesh. The two survivors soon cross paths, and find temporary shelter in an abandoned farmhouse.
Deadsight is full of familiar touchstones for fans of zombie cinema, and of horror movies in general. The setup shows echos of 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead. The sequences in and around the farmhouse call back to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and its later remake. The sensory deprivation Ben displays is reminiscent of Bird Box and A Quiet Place (which also featured a pregnant lead). Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…
Though both Ben and Mara must overcome their individual circumstances, they work together well. While we don’t learn much of their background, seeing their actions during this crisis gives us a feel for who these characters are. Mara is understandably cautious around Ben at first, but the two soon come to trust and depend on each other. When the story separates the pair, we can’t help but worry about their wellbeing. As Ben’s eyesight slowly begins to return, the physical demands of Mara’s pregnancy increase. The tension may shift, but it never decreases.
On a less positive note, the characters make questionable choices, including tossing away a much-needed weapon on more than one occasion. Seybold and Collins make likable leads, but it’s difficult to be fully on board with some of the characters’ decisions.
At times, the cinematography exceeds the limitations of the budget. We catch dusk-hued glimpses of the stark Canadian countryside. Near the film’s end, dramatic shades of red and green provide a feel not unlike the films of Dario Argento. However, the decision to rely mostly on a handheld, shaking camera sometimes serves as a distraction from what’s happening in the scene.
Another area where the seams start to show is in the special effects. The practical effects used are decent enough. But reliance on poorly-rendered CGI headshots, particularly near the story’s climax, stretched the suspension of disbelief. I suspect this was a budgetary choice rather than a stylistic one, but the film suffered a bit for it.
Full disclosure here: I might be ready for the undead (and their infected relatives) to spend some time in the ground. That’s a surprising sentiment for me to express. The first proper horror film I ever saw was Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and in the thirty-five or so years that have since passed, my appetite for zombie movies has been ravenous. So after two recent outings with the living dead left me wanting something more, I find myself wondering whether it’s not them, but rather it’s me.
That’s not to say that Deadsight (or The Dead Don’t Die, for that matter) is a bad film. Zombie fans may find something to like here, particularly if they value character work over a story that breaks new ground. It just left me with a feeling of “been there, done that.”