Stymied by parking, our reviewer trades uplift for depravity
I went to the movies this past weekend hoping to be inspired. There are several theaters in the Chattanooga area and only one of them was playing “He Named Me Malala,” the documentary about the exceptional Malala Yousafzai, 2014’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
I was hoping to spend part of my afternoon learning about the strength of a young woman who stood up to religious fanatics for the sake of female education. Every interview I’ve seen with her has been touching and heartening, a powerful testament to the triumph of the human spirit.
However, of all things, parking thwarted my best intentions. I circled the blocks surrounding the Majestic several times, only to find the parking garage full, the streets lined with cars (or blocked off by new curbs for bike lanes to serve a proportionally low percentage of cyclists in Chattanooga when compared to the number of drivers), and every Republic lot full.
With nowhere to leave my vehicle, I took to the highway and returned to the safety of my basement for a decidedly different experience. Rather than reveling in the soaring nobility of human perseverance, I wallowed in the violent depravity of “Deathgasm,” the final film being shown at Mise En Scenester’s Frightening Ass Film Festival.
Some days just turn out differently than you expect.
“Deathgasm” is a New Zealand film directed by Jason Lei Howden about a high school metal band inadvertently summoning eternal darkness to their small, insignificant town. It is a typical high school outcast film, complete with romantic misunderstandings, subgroup humor, and fundamentalist ribbing. Oh, and it also features a perfectly acceptable level of decapitation, disembowelment, and angry, demonic howling.
In my previous article, I described the film as “Evil Dead” meets “This Is Spinal Tap,” and on some levels, this is an apt comparison. However, at no point does “Deathgasm” meet the high standards set by either of those films. The film aims be funny and succeeds quite often, but “Evil Dead” also managed to be unnerving, if not downright scary, in certain places, whereas “Deathgasm” is more interested in winking at the camera to let us in on the joke.
Where it fails is in its commitment to the characters—we never get a real sense of the band members as people, beyond their simplified roles. Compare this film with another New Zealand based horror/comedy “What We Do in the Shadows.” This film works because the characters are well developed. While each vampire represents a stereotypical vampire type, the actors breathe a certain amount of life into them, giving them relatable qualities that allow the audience to connect with the characters.
“Deathgasm” doesn’t give the actors time to sink into their characters before leaping into the demonic mayhem that is necessary to move the plot forward. Keep in mind, however, that “What We Do in the Shadows” is stylistically a “mockumentary” film in the style of “This Is Spinal Tap” or “The Office,” which frees up the filmmakers to characterize through talking-head style interviews.
“Deathgasm” doesn’t have that luxury, and therefore must tell the story using more traditional methods. Still, I could have used more character moments like the shared revulsion of all things Poison related or the inability to distinguish between the Lord of Darkness and soft, glossy fabrics.
The strengths in the film are derived from the direction by Howden, who was clearly inspired by “Evil Dead”-style techniques. As with “Evil Dead,” the camerawork is almost a character in itself. The camera occasionally takes the role of antagonist, allowing the audience to see from the perspective of one of the possessed as they attack the characters, which adds another level of engagement to an already engaging film.
Additionally, Howden injects some highly entertaining, hilarious moments into the tension of the action scenes that we don’t normally see in a bloody horror film (gas-powered tools never seem to work on pull, do they?). While the film isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it’s easy to see that there is talent behind the scenes and likely more good films to follow.
“Deathgasm” is the type of film that needs to be seen with an audience. Most comedies are better when experienced with a group than alone. Luckily, Chattanooga has that opportunity on Halloween. See it with a friend or two.