Director – Simon Rumley
Cast – Leo Bill, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Kate Fahy, Sarah Ball, Neil Conrich
Release Year – 2006
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Debuting at the 2006 Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, The Living and the Dead took home best picture/director/actor, while beating out great horror films like Hatchet, The Host, and Severance. This intrigued me and had me assuming that this would at the very least be a positive film, but after viewing this watch I feel that it is only moderately-positive at best, and definitely not deserving of beating the previously mentioned films. The Living and the Dead does deliver an interesting premise, and while the drama level outweighs the horror I feel this film accomplished what it set out to do, and will stick with you for a little while.
When “Ex Lord” Donald Brocklebank is forced to leave his home and head to London in search of a way to pay for his terminally ill wife’s medical procedures, his delusional mentally retarded son, James, deems himself “man of the house” and locks him and his mother inside, refusing to let her nurse or any outsiders in the home. It is then that the Brocklebank home is transformed to a living hell when James begins to administer his own medical treatments to his ill mother.
I admit that this is one of the more interesting horror films having to do with the medical field, and the original idea of the perpetrator not being an evil doctor but in fact a mentally disabled adult man who feels he is doing what is best for his mother. The film’s tagline says it perfectly, “Terror by good intentions”. It is there that the film’s drama element takes a strong effect, as we are forced to watch a man who’s good intentions that he believes will save his dying mother are only putting her through hell on earth. In addition to this, this is also where the film’s horror element is strongest, an idea that I dug given we are given two near opposites, drama and horror, all in the same sequence of events. What surprised me was the fact that most of these horrific scenes are concluded around the end of the second act, leaving the final act of the film focusing on James’ mental state and how the ordeal has left him delusional and in his own personal hell. I really wanted more from the film, and it could be that its 83 minute runtime did not have enough material to deliver more to the viewer.
Writer/director Simon Rumley did a mostly OK job with the film’s direction, using great sets and atmosphere to sell the film visually and set up the viewer for the gloomy and wretched horror that would later ensue. His execution of James was fantastic, and we get a superb performance from Leo Bill as the disabled son who apparently never read “First Do No Harm”. Rumley gave us a full-frontal view of the hell Jason’s mom, Nancy, was forced to endure at the hands of her son’s unintended negligence, which included many hard-to-watch scenes that will potentially leave you fearing old age. Aside from all of these positives, there were points in the film where I felt Rumley’s direction was lacking, including his execution of Jason’s delusions and scenes where he felt it necessary to portray the film in a fast-forwarding style of filming. It may work for you, and I could be wrong about this, but it did not work for me.
Overall, The Living and the Dead is a unique film that delivers a strong drama element that left this film only borderline horror, but the horror it did come with was of a realistic variety that is sure to leave some with mental images they wish to soon forget. Recommended on the sole count of viewing something unique, but don’t expect an all-out horror film, or a really good one either.