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Rather than die on arrival; Dead Bodies twists, turns and provides more than its fair share of psychological warfare and complications of a moral nature.
When it comes to those eerie and uncanny little crime films, the sorts that revolve around characters that are bordering on scum and inhabit equally scummy surroundings, and additionally carry that wavering and bleak feel thanks to some pretty grotty cinematography and some very black comedy; Dead Bodies is the sort of film Paul McGuigan wishes he could make. Alas, the maddening and sporadic Gangster No. 1 as well as the equally all over the shop, but interesting exercise in surrealism mixed with realism, effort entitled The Acid House are the only ones of his we've got to go on so far. Dead Bodies is Robert Quinn's piece based on a Derek Landy script, a film that straddles the line between psychological horror and neo-noir; intermingling elements of crime and terror with themes linked to morality and unnatural, obsessive disorders.
McGuigan's British based crime efforts carry that wavy and distorted feel, like witnessing somebody's nightmare and having front row seats in the process. His films are able to disgust is some areas and amuse in others what with their outlandish and all-over-the-place approach. They carry a very dream-like sensibility despite being grounded in a very realistic, down-trodden, grimy looking world the real world with as much-an emphasis on the horror and the terror of the situations his characters spawn than anything else. Dead Bodies is a film that tackles both some pretty harrowing character driven situations as well as a brief inclusion of a study of a delicate psychological mindset, only here, the film balances both the eccentricity of its characters; the terror of the scenarios they find themselves in and the questions of morality that arise much better.
Dead Bodies is effective and rather simplistic without ever feeling like manipulative. Its suggestive and knowing tendency to want to hammer home exactly what people are thinking and feeling does not detract from the experience. Early on, we meet Tommy McGann (Scott), a young lad whose girlfriend Jean (Davis) dominates him, his life and the screen whenever she's on for the brief time that she is. The point as to the fact his situation of living in a less-than desirable house; with a job stacking shelves and a partner he doesn't get on with at all well is put across in a distinct manner. As is the manner in which the audience are given distinct permission to dislike Jean what with the bratty, spoilt and expectant attitudes she so clearly possesses. Later on the film will linger, rather obviously, on a police officer's face as suspicions and tensions rise in what is clearly a cheap and easy way to tell the watching audience that our hero is not quite out of trouble just yet.
But compare this to Gangster No. 1, in which such is the episodic and misguided approach McGuigan applies to the material; that a vital, vital plot point arises when a character is spotted leaving a building by someone else out on a 'random drive' in a scene set several months after the previous one. The feeling isn't as grounded nor fulfilling. Dead Bodies' set up is dominated by Kay Davis' Jean; a would-be femme fatale just itching to pick a fight of some sort but just not really being able to find one. She has lead Tommy jumping through rings; going there, doing this and that without Tommy ever really reacting in the manner he could, principally because he is controlled by her promises of sex. The beginning builds a certain amount of tension because of Tommy's underplayed reaction to what's going on and it culminates in a distinct release when the initial incident happens, and Jean dies.
If the set up is simple enough then that's one thing, but the pinch of the project is the manner in which Tommy decides to rid Jean of his hands by burying her without informing anyone of her death bar a best friend. Things tighten when it transpires there was a second dead body in the exact same place Tommy buried Jean, with suspicions, denials and general trouble the all round ingredients of the day. It is at this point the film blurs the lines between noir and horror; indeed Tommy inhabits rather-a large, ominous, spooky and even Gothic house which he shares with an elder relative whom inhabits the upper areas of said house. This evokes memories of Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho and Bates' set up that he has with his mother, and where she's positioned. It is additionally no coincidence this would-be place of horror is the setting for Jean's unfortunate demise.
The placing of a dead body right in the hands of the hapless, male lead in order for it to act as the initial incident is a classic set up for any noir; from Ulmer's 1945 film Detour right up to a more recent, and more contemporary compared to Dead Bodies, 2006 film entitled Big Nothing. What this film unfolds into, is a twisted; rather unpredictable and quite frightening tale of genre hybridity and mind games told under a palette of distinctly drained visuals. The voice-overs and the treading on the fine line that the lead does for most of the film between right and wrong aid in pushing it into a realm of the neo-noir; if we consider the fact that the lead is, essentially, innocent and his murder charges are unfair then that's one thing, but his attitudes towards Jean initially saw him act without thought and his covering up of her death is the anti-thesis for dropping the murder charges. Dead Bodies is taught; entertaining to watch without ever feeling exploitative and provides a consistent tone for the rather nasty physical and psychological content being explored.
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