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Movie Review: Death and Cremation

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When it comes to low budget horror movies with no buzz, it is hard to know what to expect. I have watched countless stinkers, failing to watch many all the way through. However, there is always the hope that I will stumble across a hidden gem. I tell you, I always love when I can recommend a movie that someone has never heard of. What am I getting at? Well, the obvious is film discovery, being open to the little movie, but even more this movie in particular is an interesting little gem. Death and Cremation is the sort of movie that I think a lot of people would just walk past. It is not gory; it is not action packed; it is not even all that well developed. What is there, though, is an interesting look into these characters’ lives; it is dark, lonely, and fascinating.

The first person we are introduced to is Stanley (Brad Dourif of Child’s Play and Lord of the Rings). He is a curious character who runs a crematorium. It is not exactly a lively business as we see him calling customer service lines while he takes out the trash and lazily working on crossword puzzles to waste the time away. Despite this slow business, Stanley is not bored. Stanley is a people watcher; he watches those around him and wherever he happens to be. Now, he is not simply watching; he is looking for the details; he is looking for those who bully, those who are not considerate, those whose self involvement paints them as a target for elimination. That’s right, elimination. You see, Stanley drums up business for the crematory by finding worthy victims. Stanley is a serial killer with a great method for evidence disposal.

Our other main character is Jarod (Jeremy Sumpter of Frailty and TV’s Friday Night Lights). Jarod is an outsider, portrayed in a stereotypical goth look. He has black hair, wears black clothes, and paints his nails black. He may have chosen a common route to show his outsiderness, but he doesn’t seem to care. He lives with his single mom in a trailer, has issues with his mother’s boyfriend, and has completely given up on trying to fit in at school or even participate for that matter. He is also picked on relentlessly by his cruel classmates.When his mother forces him to get a job, he meets Stanley and talks himself into working at the crematorium.

The two seem to have been made for each other. Their relationship develops slowly as they are revealed to each other. Stanley sees himself in Jarod and takes him on as an apprentice, teaching him the business. All goes well, as Stanley continues his pursuit of ridding the world of bullying types. However, Jarod makes a mistake and a decision must be made as a detective begins putting pieces together.

Death and Cremation plays like a cross between The Karate Kid and Dexter, while not being as good natured as the former nor as graphic as the latter. It is a movie that offers up an interesting glimpse into the lives of these two characters who see each other as kin. Stanley taking on a protective air of the put upon teen and Jarod seeing Stanley as the father figure he never had.

The film is far from perfect. I do not feel that it digs as deep as it could into their relationship. Writer/director Justin Steele and writer Alecc Bracero scarcely scratch the surface. What really drives Stanley? What was it that pushed him down this path? What was it that caused Jarod to just give up? What does he see in Stanley?

This is a movie that is fascinating and frustrating. It is well worth seeing as Brad Dourif gives a wonderful performance and the concept is an interesting one. It is frustrating in seeing it take you to the edge of greatness but never fully embracing what it could be. There is also a little matter of the ending, which feels like they ran out of money and had to find a quick way to finish it.

The screener I received was presented in a 1.33:1 ratio but the credits are widescreen (looks like 1.85:1). I suspect this was intended to be seen widescreen as some of the compositions here are quite crowded and do not look right.

Regardless of the ratio, the content of the movie is king and, while it may not be all that it could be, it is still a very interesting film that is well worth seeing.

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