There are a lot of interesting ideas put forward by writer/director Chris Bavota and Lee Paula Springer’s Canadian horror, Dead Dicks (no, not those dicks). Although calling it a horror movie may be slightly misleading, as there’s only really one or two moments of ‘horror’ in it. This is more like a Cronenberg-inflected science-fiction piece. And while there are elements of the film that don’t work as well as they could, when it does get something right, it does it really well.
Bar worker Becca (Jillian Harris) dreams of a better life, and she may finally have her chance. She’s been accepted onto a prestigious nursing programme at the Conn-Gerber (an anagram of Cronenberg) university. But there’s a problem. Becca’s brother, Richie (Heston Horwin), is a suicidal depressive, and she’s been his only support for many years. Then one night, while working a shift at the bar, she receives a disconcerting phone call from her brother. Leaving work early and rushing over to his flat, it’s clear this isn’t the first time Becca has had to do this. She doesn’t look overly concerned and even greets Richie’s irate neighbour, Matt (Matt Keyes), who’s fed up of his loud music. After arriving and finding no sign of her brother, she eventually makes a grisly discovery. Richie has hanged himself in the cupboard—but not all is as it seems.
Obviously, that’s not where the film ends, and Richie is soon reborn (quite literally) through a vaginal shaped...thing on his bedroom wall. And so, the film really begins and ends in the confines of Richie’s flat with, primarily, just two characters. It’s just as well then that, apart from some unconvincing emotional delivery, the central performances are outstanding. And, even more importantly, the connection between the brother and sister pairing is entirely convincing. A crucial detail for a film based within such intimate confines.
Another crucial detail Dead Dicks absolutely nails is the movie’s depiction of mental illness. And not just its effects on the sufferer, but their family too. I felt Bavota and Springer handled this with care, mindfulness, and complete and, occasionally, brutal honesty. Even going so far as to have Becca express her frustration over how her brother’s condition has negatively affected her own life. This may seem insensitive on first viewing, but it’s an essential aspect of mental illness which is rarely talked about. It’s great to see mental illness represented so well, so accurately, and so thoroughly, as it really helps to normalise these discussions and break the stigma around them. And, without giving too much away, the ending is genuinely heartbreaking and seemed all too real.
Dead Dicks is a well-crafted movie but, frankly, none of the technical aspects of the film stands out as being anything more than adequate. Which, honestly, is fine. There are issues in places, however. Narratively, the film can be a bit complex; the film jumps from one reveal to another a little too much. Nevertheless, it’s nice that the film can keep the viewer on their toes, as it does at least keep things interesting. So take from that what you will. Some performances have moments which feel a little stilted and the dialogue can, at times, feel laboured. The few instances of CGI are also weak, but luckily, it’s used sparingly and never intrudes too much.
Dead Dicks’ low production value – evident from the beginning – may suggest to the viewer that this is a film of little merit or worth. However, this initial fronting belies a solid science-fiction film which, besides a few issues here and there, is well worth your time. Come for the gore-laden sci-fi, stay for the movie’s substance on mental illness.