Every now and again a movie comes out of nowhere and ends up flooring you. It’s often something you’ve never heard of, that you picked up on whim. There’s something really freeing about watching a movie with no expectations. It’s strange, because we operate in a world where there’s so much content, you’d think almost every film outside of the mainstream could come expectation free. However, with the age of the internet, you’re almost bombarded with information about every release. You’re reading about DEAD WEST, so obviously there’s no clean slate for you with this movie. That’s okay, though, because this isn’t the kind of movie that comes out of nowhere and floors you. I thought it was going to be, but then the film takes a violent left turn.
Dead West is about a charming and charismatic serial killer who picks up women left and right only to leave them dead when they don’t meet his standards for being a lover. It’s not the most progressive plot, but somehow, they make it work. The action heats up when the brother of one of the victims seeks revenge against this killer. It begins a race across the state as the vigilante chases down our antagonist. All the while, the killer is leaving more bodies in his wake.
From moment one of this nearly two hour film, I was hooked. The cinematography in this film is incredible for what I am assuming is a low budget production. The film starts in a hazy neon lit bar which dazzles right off the screen. The film keeps it up as every car, hotel room, and dusty road where everything takes place looks just as gorgeous. I was hooked from moment one with the acting as well. Brian Sutherland gives a star making performance playing the film’s villain. Filmmaker Jeff Ferrell makes an interesting, and ultimately, the right choice making the villain our lead in the movie. We don’t meet the brother going out for justice until later on in the film.
The pace breezes on along as we see a day to day life of the ever-changing-named killer. We see him murder women for seemingly no reason, and then we see him defend other women against some terrible men in their lives. Here’s where things start to get a little muddled for me. The killer, or as he’s credited at the end of the film, the Ladykiller, dispatches bodies left and right like the despicable character he is. Then, the film tries to get us to warm up to him as he beats up and eventually even kills abusive boyfriends and stepfathers he witnesses.
The film tries to justify why he’s like that in the end, and it makes sense to the story. I just don’t understand why the filmmaker chose to do this. Ferrell also takes every opportunity to make Sutherland look as cool as possible in between each of his murders. I’m not really sure what the film is trying to say with that, but it made me a bit uncomfortable. Sutherland is great and extremely watchable in his role, but I don’t think we as an audience should be rooting for him. Sometimes, I got the feeling Ferrell was glorifying his killer instead of adding depth to the character, which I’m sure was more likely the intention.
My feelings aside, the movie kept moving along briskly as it leads to the showdown with the vigilante and the ladykiller. In fact, in the scene where they finally meet face to face, I was on the edge of my seat. Everything in the film has led to this moment. While the our hero is on his way to serve up some vengeance, the killer stops at a drive-in to watch a double bill of movies. What are the films? Vigilante and Maniac. Very clever, Mr. Ferrell. The film really takes its time before any revenge can be served up. The tension in these scenes is palpable. Now I’m going to start heading into spoiler territory, and I’m going to continue almost to the end.
In what I though was an interesting twist, the battle ends up happening about and hour and fifteen minutes into the two hour film. Even more riveting, is the fact that the killer kills the vigilante. The scene works really well too as it’s a punch to the gut. I was so excited for what the filmmaker was going to give us next after such a bold decision.
That’s when the movie really comes off the rails, in a bad way. What we are treated to next is, and I shit you not, almost a line for line recreation of Tony Scott’s TRUE ROMANCE from the meeting of Alabama up until the scene where Clarence kills Drexyl. I was flabbergasted. Why would a movie that was making so many bold and creative choices spin off into rip off territory? The dialogue, which had mostly been great in the preceding hour, goes into full film student wannabe Tarantino riffing. There’s even an Elvis scene in there to boot.
I thought the film was going to be one of those films I knew nothing about that I would end up loving. Once it takes that violent turn into True Romance copycat, it loses all of its steam. After what would be this film’s Drexyl scene, the movie tries to return to what we had been seeing before with a killer snapping and reverting into the monster he is and always was. The film is never able to gain any traction again before the credits roll, leaving something a bad taste left in the mouth of the viewer.
Overall, I can’t say that I dislike the movie. I loved it, despite making questionable choices, for so long. Then, it turned on me with it’s last forty five minutes. I want to recommend the film because the acting, cinematography, and music, which I haven’t mentioned yet, are all incredible. Just prepare yourself for a sharp left turn near the last act of the film.
Special Features on the DVD include Audio Commentary with director Jeff Ferrell, actor Brian Sutherland and composer Semih Tareen and a 68 minute documentary on The Making of Dead West.
Dead West is available this Tuesday, February 7th on DVD from RLJ Entertainment.
More information on the film can be found HERE