Dead (2020)

“I’m Dane Marbeck, and I can communicate with ghosts.”

With this minor variant on “I see dead people”, the sweet-natured scooter-driving stoner (Thomas Sainsbury, also the co-writer of Dead) known to everyone as Marbles is openly allying himself to clairvoyant characters from films like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999), Stephen Sommers’ Odd Thomas (2013), Ilya S. Maksimov’s The Soul Conductor (2018), Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman’s Extra Ordinary. (2019), and of course fellow New Zealander Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners (1996). 

Marbles found his abilities – not so much personal as pharmaceutical – shortly after his beloved father Ross (Michael Hurst) died. In order to cope with the loss and to get closer somehow to what he misses, Marbles started taking his father’s neurological medication, which, as it turns out, combines with Marbles’ regular marijuana intake to enable him to see the dead – at least for as long as the formula’s effect lasts. So now Marbles works as a medium, helping the living to say their last goodbyes to the dead before sending them on their way to whatever lies beyond. 

Soon Marbles is approached by Jason Tiggs (Hayden J. Weal, also the director of Dead and Sainsbury’s co-writer) – an uptight yet trouserless local police officer who just happens to be dead. Tiggs will not move on until Marbles has helped him apprehend the serial killer who is targetting gay men and who put Tiggs in this sorry state – and so Marble and Tiggs form an improbable buddy act, evoking the undead cop comedy of Mark Goldblatt’s Dead Heat (1988) even as their undercover infiltration of Wellington’s gay club scene plays like an absurdist Kiwi retelling of William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980). Add to this an evolving romance between Marbles and Tigg’s foster sister Yana (Tomia Ihaia), whose own ankle-braceleted home arrest recalls Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound (2014), and whose come-on banter involves discourse on diarrhoea, and you have all the elements in place for a crazy clash of worlds – not only between constabulary and criminality, gay and straight, but also between the living and the dead. 

Marbles’ crime investigation gets very close to home, with a solution that is wonderfully perverse – but for the most part this is an affectionate portrait of a nice guy who has not always been treated nicely by others, trying to bury the bad things from his past and to live a life without regrets. The plotting ambles about like someone who has smoked a little bit too much pot, and the humour is hit and miss,  but even after some of its gags die, Dead is good-natured enough to keep coming back to life.   

Summary: Hayden J. Weal’s lo-fi buddy comedy teams a stoner medium with a ghost cop to solve serial killings in New Zealand’s gay community

© Anton Bitel

Dead will be available on Digital Download from 27th October and can be pre-ordered here