Zombies have been inserted into all sorts of unexpected texts in the last decade. We’ve read Jane Austen go all Resident Evil on them in Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, they put the “zom” in the “rom-zom-com” of Shaun of the Dead, and infamous Canadian provocateur Bruce LaBruce even made a couple of gay romance/porn movies most notably Otto or, Up With Dead People. Meanwhile, the television adaptation of the popular The Walking Dead comic series has put the flesh eaters in Prime Time. Now comes Make-Out with Violence, which takes the bittersweet American indie coming-of-age drama and gives it a zombie twist. Naturally.
It’s actually a shame that writing/directing partners The Deagol Brothers (yes, that’s their credited name, but they’re not related) went down the zombie route, because outside of it Make-Out with Violence is a rather stunning piece of filmmaking. Oh sure, the acting is rarely better than serviceable and actually gets worse as the film goes along, but these brothers have an undeniable command of tone, atmosphere and an actually quite unnervingly precise sense of American suburban milieu. The mythology behind an American summer is boiled down to beautiful imagery of a blue twilight Tennessee sky, rustic suburban textures of vacant lots and backyard swimming pools, jasmine in the air, girls in their summer dresses and the evocative tease of adulthood. Paired with a luscious award-winning Brian Eno-esque soundtrack of original music by Jordan Lehning and local Nashville artists, it makes for such a powerfully moving piece of technical expertise that immediately makes me long for more.
Made over four years and released to festivals in 2008, Make-Out with Violence finally arrives on local DVD and fans of independent cinema should take note, especially those (like me) who have a fondness for Americana. Far less comical than the cover art would have you presume, it has a lyrical grip that is hard to shake. It often feels like what would happen if Terrence Malick went bonkers and remade Badlands with zombies and a hip alt rock soundtrack.
The film features winks to other zombie titles whilst remaining thoroughly original amongst the subgenre of films (it’s certainly no horror film, that’s for sure) plus multiple Twin Peaks references and one particularly wonderful nod to St Elmo’s Fire. One could be forgiven for thinking the title is an oh-so-hipster calling card that has little to do with anything, but its importance does become apparent, and while the film tackles the subject of personal morality and ethics, it works more as a vehicle for twinkling nostalgia memories of youth. Like David Robert Mitchell’s The Myth of the American Sleepover, which navigates the similar summer break territory but without any scenes where a rat gets eaten to gut-churning results, it plays with the idea that this is the greatest time of our lives, but questions what happens when the setting sun of youth shines a light on something ugly and altogether strange.
Make-Out with Violence is out now on DVD through Accent Entertainment.