Living Dead: To Hell and Back Review

Directed by Conrad Dela Cruz

Written by Conrad Dela Cruz

Starring Philip Jay Kho, Jake Montajes

Film Review by Tom Boardman

Living Dead: To Hell and Back

A short film doesn’t have the same amount of time to tell it’s story that a feature-length film would, and it’s immediately clear that Living Dead: To Hell and Back does not use its time effectively. Following a man who experiencing strange occurrences in his apartment, the short really seems to take its time in what could be seen as the first act. The reason why I say this is because it seems to establish a first act, but the rest of the narrative diverts from this in a way that no sane film would.

There is a through-line of the narrative, which comes in the form of some sort of entity making the visuals on the protagonist’s tv move, twist, and bend to the point where the short almost seems like it’s attempting to capture elements of Science Fiction. A good minute of the short’s opening is devoted to strange imagery within the tv, perhaps setting up that whatever is happening inside the tv is going to be the antagonist of the short, and will come to hinder or at the very least impact the protagonist in some.

However, it never has any baring on the plot. As previously touched upon, the first act of the short seems to be setting up the power that this tv has within the protagonist’s apartment, although this never comes to a head in any way. In fact, after following the protagonist in a somewhat sinister way, the narrative, introduces our second character, who comes in with no prior role or mention in the story, and exists solely to create shock value and confusion from the spectator, as his role in the narrative doesn’t amount to anything, and after entering so late, his part to play and relationship with the protagonist is never explained, and so his inclusion comes down to nothing in the grand scheme of the narrative, especially when his role is undone only for the protagonist to do the same thing himself.

At its best, the short is confusing its spectator with the creepy opera music and sound mixing. However, every time it attempts to run with this, it will have music stop at points that make the short lose momentum, and jarring sound design which takes away any eeriness the short has going for it. Every time this happens, the sound is taken over by something completely different without any connective tissue to allow one to blend into another.

There is fairly consistent imagery, and a sense that the protagonist is being watched, throughout, but there is never any focus or hint that there is an effect on the protagonist himself, aside from one shot where he looks out of a gate. The short seemingly attempts to establish the mundanity of the protagonist’s life, with him carrying out regular day tasks such as making and eating food, smoking, and reading a newspaper. However, nothing of the protagonist’s character — if it can even be called a character, more like an empty shell — sets up anything that happens to him or that he does in the climax of the story.

Perhaps the short is trying to capture experimental filmmaking techniques, as there is no real narrative to speak of or make any sense of, and the shots presented seem to be trying to capture some sort of visual spectacle rather than trying to create a narrative that can be followed with ease. As such, the best moments of this short come through the almost mind-bending “tv visuals” that presents a world of confusion and disjointedness to the spectator.