In contemporary society, kids are growing up in the age of social media, where sharing compromising videos and photos has become common practice. Above all, school shootings have been on the rise. Nowadays (before the pandemic), going to school has never been more dangerous.
Jeremy Kasten’s The Dead Ones begins with fictitious footage uploaded to YouTube, titled “Locker Room Dungeon Boy.” The video shows barbarous bullies forcing a student’s head down a toilet as they call him derogatory names. Shortly afterward, a young woman is crawling through an air vent, unsure of what’s haunting her. Concomitantly, fugacious glances of a school shooting underscore the true kernel of panic permeating the film.
“A masked crew, under the disguise of The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, is lurking outside…”
Moments later, a teacher (Clare Kramer) is driving four students to Arcadia High School, where they are tasked to spend a week of their summer break cleaning the mess they’ve made at the school. Emily Davis (a convincingly frantic Katie Foster) is an impassioned young artist who lives with a mental illness and harms herself frequently. Alice ‘Mouse’ Morley (a moderately subdued Sarah Rose Harper) is rather demure but just as wounded, as years of abuse from her father (Muse Watson) have left indelible scars. Scottie French (an impressive Brandon Thane Wilson) has done time in juvie for retaliating against a bully. And Louis Friend (Torey Garza) is best characterized by his inflated rage, but opposites attract considering he’s seeing Alice.
The set-up is taken straight out of The Breakfast Club handbook, but as the mounting terror of The Dead Ones suggests, the teen angst has gotten more feral. The school is presented in the aftermath of a shooting. The school hallways are riddled with bullet holes, the lights are constantly flickering, and debris is scattered across the floor. Clearly, this isn’t your customary cleaning job that’ll bring these four outcasts closer together, principally because they have more pressing matters to worry about. A masked crew, under the disguise of The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, is lurking outside, locking the doors and windows until storming the school with weapons and explosives. At the same time, otherworldly entities are pushing the distressed teens to confront their past trauma head-on, rendering the school as some kind of purgatory the teens are unable to escape.
A free-flowing camera follows the students through the grimy, shadowy hallways as they encounter their demons: Alice sees her abusive father, Louis succumbs to his rage, Scottie relives the publicized moment of “Locker Room Dungeon Boy,” and Emily’s hallucinations get progressively worse. Although the supernatural imagery is interestingly representative and bizarre, the raw horror lies within the alarming flashbacks that gradually reveal the progression of the school shooting that was first alluded to in the introduction.
"…a markedly unsettling venture through the mind of a school shooter..."