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Dead Within DVD Review

Dead Within DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Dead Within

Video Premiere: September 9, 2014 / Running Time: 82 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Ben Wagner / Writers: Matthew Bradford, Ben Wagner (story & screenplay); Dean Chekvala, Amy Cale Peterson (screenplay)

Cast: Amy Cale Peterson (Kim), Dean Chekvala (Mike), Sarah McMaster (Erika), Rick Federman (Todd), J. Claude Deering (voice of Ranger Mark Rand), Julia McLachlan (Baby Lily), Henriette Lippsmith (Little Girl), Jolene Anderson (Undead Erika), Teddy (Teddy)

2.40.1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English),
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish / Not Closed Captioned / Extras Not Subtitled
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 / Also available on Blu-ray? ($24.99 SRP)
Black Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover / Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)

Buy Dead Within on DVD from Amazon.com

Sometimes, it feels like you can divide the entirety of modern horror films into three classes: those with psychopaths, those with ghosts, and those with zombies.
Zombies have pervaded pop culture this century like never before. New zombie movies needn't waste a second explaining or expositing the enemy's behavior and threat. Instead, such films must face the challenge of presenting these ubiquitous undead creatures in a new light.

Dead Within mostly succeeds at that task, generating accessible, claustrophobic, and economical thrills by staying inside with a married couple trying to survive a zombie apocalypse (a scenario that requires no elaboration).

Thirtysomethings Mike (Dean Chekvala) and Kim (Amy Cale Peterson) make do on canned goods and hope. Both are dwindling these days after six months of living in minimalist fashion. Mike makes the occasional dangerous provisions run, venturing outside their fortified, run-down little home. Kim finger paints the walls of that home and knits to keep occupied and sane.

In "Dead Within", trying to endure a zombie apocalypse takes a toll on Kim (Amy Cale Peterson).

Lately, the lack of a scenery change seems to be testing her sanity. Kim seems to be losing her mind, as she starts talking to a cat she painted on the wall, hallucinates, and may be imagining the first promising communication made through the walkie-talkie she's been checking in futility. A pre-apocalypse dinner party opening scene and some flashbacks flesh out the plight of these characters, who have lost their baby daughter and their friends in about the most traumatic way possible. The couple keeps track of their kills with crayon tally marks on the fridge.

Tension is generated from a skeleton cast, a minimum of space, the thinnest of narratives, and certainly a shoestring budget. That impressive feat suggests that director Ben Wagner can do a lot with a little, but perhaps it's a case of necessity and limitations fueling his creative juices.
Wagner picks up only his second directing credit in nine years, finally following up the little-seen 2005 Appalachian Trail hiking drama Southbounders, which appears to have been Peterson's previous leading role. The actress, her onscreen husband, and producer Matthew Bradford all share screenplay credit with Wagner, who also splits story credit with Bradford.

Dead Within is brisk and efficient. Running just 79 minutes plus partly redundant end credits, the film makes a point to get good mileage of what little it has. The couple is developed as playful, three-dimensional young adults being pushed to their limits. Their home drips with atmosphere, as the bright sunlight peeks in through the slits between wooden boards to eerie effect. A single setting and principal cast of two (plus one offscreen voice) could easily get tiresome fast, but Wagner avoids letting either wear out their welcome en route to an unsettling, ambiguous ending.

Mike (Dean Chekvala) and Kim (Amy Cale Peterson) try to keep their romance alive on whatever canned foods and drinks they can rustle up. Bright sunlight creeps in a crack at the door as Kim (Amy Cale Peterson) takes a peek at the outside world she hasn't experienced in six months.

Though acquired in June by Millennium Entertainment, a young distributor with a burgeoning theatrical record, Dead Within premieres directly on DVD and Video on Demand tomorrow.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Dead Within is presented on DVD in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, which in this case appears to be the film's original and intended aspect ratio. A modest budget seems pretty evident from the appearance of the film, which at times almost looks like it could have been shot on a cell phone held sideways. The picture quality is adequate, but we don't get much in the way of detail (though depending on the caliber of the production design, that might not be a terrible thing).

The default Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack doesn't do much with the sound field, but dialogue remains crisp and intelligible throughout. Should you disagree at any point, English SDH subtitles will help clarify. Though preorderable on Amazon with a concurrent release date, a Blu-ray edition is unmentioned on the press release, suggesting it probably will not materialize at this time.

Catch Phrase doesn't really work with two players, but Mike (Dean Chekvala) and Kim try playing it like that in this deleted scene. The Dead Within DVD's main menu divides the screen between cover art and clips.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Dead Within's DVD includes four deleted scenes, each equipped with terse audio commentary (presumably by writer-director Ben Wagner, though he doesn't identify himself). They run 7 minutes and 57 seconds altogether,
although without a "Play All" option, you'll have to use your remote control eight times to see them all and know why they were cut. The deletions offer an alternate opening that assigns the baby not to our couple but their friends, a short and frustrating two-player game of Electronic Catch Phrase, and moments of tension and hope for the couple.

A Previews section adds Dead Within's trailer (1:34), noteworthy for making the premise clearer than the film does, to the four that play automatically at disc insertion for Parts Per Billion, Buck Wild, Rob the Mob, and Hell Baby.

The main menu plays clips to the left of a swatch of cover art image while the film-opening and closing song, "We Made a Mountain" performed by The Mynabirds, plays. Submenus are silent and static.

The uncut Eco-Box keepcase is topped by a glossy slipcover and adds no inserts to the disc whose full color label employs the cover art's diagonal design.

Kim (Amy Cale Peterson) isn't as excited as Mike (Dean Chekvala) by the white dress he just found.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There's essentially no way for you to know from the title, the cover, or the personnel that the horror film Dead Within has some merit to it, so you'll just have to take my word. Yes, it is yet another zombie apocalypse movie and yes, it could have easily been shot in a week for probably a few thousand dollars. But this psychological thriller uses those limitations creatively, making for a fairly painless and not overly familiar experience.

Buy Dead Within on DVD from Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed September 8, 2014.



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